Issue Date: August 4, 2008
OSHA Combustible Dust Rule Needed
The explosion and fire at a sugar refinery on Feb. 7, the latest in a series of fatal dust accidents in recent years, dramatically illustrates the need for new federal safety regulations, congressional Democrats say. "OSHA has failed to respond proactively," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment & Workplace Safety, declared last week at a hearing that examined the blast at the Imperial Sugar plant in Port Wentworth, Ga. That explosion claimed the lives of 13 workers and hospitalized 40 others (C&EN, Feb. 18, page 5). OSHA has proposed nearly $9 million in penalties against Imperial for "willful and egregious" safety violations. Criminal charges are also possible. Murray and other Democrats on the panel said regulations are needed to protect workers from combustible dust hazards. A bill passed by the House in April would force OSHA to adopt new standards specifically targeting dust. But OSHA Administrator Edwin G. Foulke Jr. told lawmakers that it "wouldn't have mattered if we had a combustible dust standard," because the company knowingly placed its employees "in an extremely dangerous work environment." Imperial Sugar denies the allegation and plans to contest OSHA's citations and proposed penalties.
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