Signaling its renewed focus on regulatory means to address occupational hazards, OSHA is pursuing comprehensive rulemaking to prevent combustible dust explosions. The Agency announced it will be issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) and convening stakeholder meetings to evaluate approaches to regulating combustible dust. Employers with combustible dust hazards in their worksites are encouraged to participate in the rulemaking process.
Combustible dusts are solids ground into fine particles, which can cause a fire or explosion when suspended in air under certain circumstances. Common examples of combustible dusts include metal (aluminum and magnesium), wood, plastic, rubber, coal, flour, sugar, and paper, among others. OSHA has identified a number of industries with combustible dust hazards, including agriculture, chemicals, food, grain, plastics, wood, paper, textiles, pharmaceuticals, tire and rubber manufacturing, and metal processing. While certain OSHA standards provide some protection against combustible dust, for example, Housekeeping (29 CFR 1910.22) and Electrical Equipment in Hazardous Locations (29 CFR 1910.307), OSHA does not have a single comprehensive rule to protect employees from combustible dust explosions.
OSHA’s announcement was expected. Over the last several years, the Agency has published non-mandatory guidance on combustible dust hazards and the prevention of combustible dust explosions. Furthermore, there has been significant congressional interest in the issue. In the last Congress, the House of Representatives passed a bill to force OSHA to issue an interim and final combustible dust standard within 3 and 18 months, respectively. On February 4 of this year, Representatives George Miller, Lynn Woolsey, and John Barrow re-introduced this bill.
Secretary of Labor Solis, in announcing the combustible dust rulemaking, stated that “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.” Employers must remain alert to OSHA’s regulatory initiatives and participate in the rulemaking process.