First it was going to be in the spring of 2011. Then the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said November. That’s when they would convene a panel to consider a rule to protect workers from combustible dust and how any rules would affect small businesses. Now, OSHA says April 2014, maybe.
Unglamorous as it may be, controlling combustible dust, not just in coal mines, is a significant safety issue for workers across the country, whether workers realize it or not.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has investigated numerous accidents and deaths that turned out to have combustible dust in common, even among different industries. A report from the Center for Public Integrity found that since 1980, dust has been involved in more than 450 accidents, killed almost 130 people and injured 800, and those numbers are probably underreported.
The Chemical Safety Board recommended that the federal government issue safety standards for general industry to prevent dust fires and explosions. The rule should be based on the National Fire Protection Association’s standards and cover hazard assessment, engineering controls, housekeeping, building design, explosion protection, operating procedures and worker training.
Of course, it’s hardly a surprise that this safety issue gets bumped down the Obama administration priority list. It seems every time the administration makes a move on something like worker safety or environmental protection, they get nothing but grief, even from places such as West Virginia, from the governor to lawmakers to union and business leaders. The president might expect a place so historically blue-collar as West Virginia would welcome efforts that protect workers, but he is probably not counting on it.
No one wants a rule that industry is unable to follow, or another death or injury from a preventable cause. That’s why OSHA should get this panel convened and sensible rules enacted.
— Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette