OSHA Announces Rulemaking on Combustible Dust Hazards

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is initiating a comprehensive rulemaking on combustible dust. OSHA will issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and convene related stakeholder meetings to evaluate possible regulatory methods, and request data and comments on issues related to combustible dust such as hazard recognition, assessment, communication, defining combustible dust and other concerns.

Since 1980, more than 130 workers have been killed and more than 780 injured in combustible dust explosions. These include 14 people who were killed in a dust explosion February 7, 2008, at an Imperial Sugar Co. plant in Georgia (pictured above) and three workers who were burned in April 2009 in an Illinois pet food plant dust explosion.

“Over the years, combustible dust explosions have caused many deaths and devastating injuries that could have been prevented,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “OSHA is reinvigorating the regulatory process to ensure workers receive the protection they need while also ensuring that employers have the tools needed to make their workplaces safer.”

Combustible dusts are solids finely ground into fine particles, fibers, chips, chunks or flakes that can cause a fire or explosion when suspended in air under certain conditions. Types of dusts include metal (aluminum and magnesium), wood, plastic or rubber, coal, flour, sugar and paper, among others.

In 2006, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) recommended that OSHA issue a combustible dust standard. OSHA received additional support for a combustible dust standard from the CSB during a congressional hearing in 2008 when the board said a new standard, combined with enforcement and education, could save workers’ lives.


  1. It’s very troubling reading the Combustible Dust rulemaking abstract that OSHA will be using information gathered from the Combustible Dust NEP as the agency considers future rulemaking. This document does not provide a clear picture of reality. Especially considering that over 50% of combustible dust related fires and explosions in 2008, though media accounts, occurred in national industires (NAICS), not referenced in this outdated NEP.

    Furthermore the 281 combustible dust incidents obtained from the CSB Dust Hazard Study does not address the thousands of incidents that have occurred over in the past three decades. A sound occupational safety policy in protecting the workplace can only be formulated when stakeholders fully understand the probability of occurrence in addition to the severity. The CSB study was a great start but much more needs to be done in evaluating the hazard appropriately.

    An OSHA comprehensive combustible dust standard is much needed but lets not all get all warm and fuzzy by a quick fix like what has previously occurred decades ago with the OSHA Grain Facility Standard in which there was over 50 combustible dust related fires and explosions in 2008. Not counting the rare Feb. 7, 2008 Imperial Sugar Refinery incident, there was more economic damage and workplace injuries in the grain facility sector in 2008 than in the manufacturing sector from combustible dust related fires and explosions.

    With such a complex subject as combustible dust spread across hundreds of national industries (NAICS), a negotiated rulemaking process like which occurred with cranes might be a viable option in addition to incorporating a hybrid process safety management venue into the rulemaking process.

Comments are closed.