OSHA Won't Act on Dust in 2015


Deflecting calls for action by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the Obama Administration will indefinitely defer a rule to control combustible dust in general industry.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has back-burnered its years-old plan to regulate dust, a common source of fatal explosions and fast-burning fires in a variety of industries.

The latest Unified Regulatory Agenda for Fall 2014 has moved the proposal to the category of "Long-Term Actions"—an indefinite delay.

Calls for a dust standard have come for years from a variety of safety experts, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), an independent federal agency that has investigated scores of deadly dust explosions.

What is Combustible

A wide variety of materials, even those that do not burn in larger pieces, can be explosible in dust form. The list includes candy, sugar, spice, starch, flour, feed, grain, tobacco, plastics, wood, paper, pulp, rubber, furniture, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dyes, coal, metals and fossil fuel power generation.

"The force from such an explosion can cause employee deaths, injuries, and destruction of entire buildings," OSHA notes.

The Chemical Safety Board, which has pressed for years for a rule, identified 281 combustible-dust incidents between 1980 and 2005.

In July 2014, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board renewed its call for a dust rule with the video Combustible Dust: Solutions Delayed. The video focuses on an Alabama dust explosion that killed three workers in 2010.

The deadliest occurred in 2008 when 14 workers were killed in a sugar-dust explosion in Georgia. In 2011, five workers died in a metal powder plant in Galltin, TN.

75 Killed

In August, meanwhile, 75 people were killed and 185 injured in a single dust explosion at a metal products plant in China—a disaster that led CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso to renew his appeal for a U.S. dust rule via The New York Times.

"Tiny metal particles and metal dust are byproducts of the manufacturing process, and a cloud of them requires only a spark to explode—which, in turn, can loft more dust and cause more explosions," Moure-Eraso wrote in an opinion piece.

"Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that accidents with high numbers of fatalities aren’t possible here, too.

Agendas and Plans

A dust rule for general industry has been in the works for years. OSHA released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in October 2009, four years after issuing a Safety and Health Information Bulletin that detailed the catastrophic potential for dust explosions.

The rule also followed a major 2006 report by the CSB on combustible dust dangers.

Six stakeholder meetings followed, including one in Washington, D.C., in 2009, and two in Atlanta, GA, and Chicago in 2010.


A dust explosion and blaze at a metal-product plant killed three workers in 2010.

In May 2011, a one-day Expert Forum was convened and later released a Summary Report of its findings.

'Tough Choices'

But a proposed rule was never written and, just before Thanksgiving, when the White House released its latest regulatory agenda, combustible dust wasn't there.

Also moved to the "Long-Term" list were proposals on Injury and Illness Prevention, an update to the Hazard Communication Standard and several other items.

“A rule on combustible dust remains a concern, and we continue to work on it, but we moved that effort into our long-term plan while we continue our enforcement efforts,” the spokesman said in a statement to several news media.

Several other rules will be advancing in the year ahead, OSHA says. They include additional action on crystalline silica, beryllium, confined space, person fall protection systems, tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses, and shipyard fall protection.

Selected OSHA Rule List - Fall 2014
Rulemaking Stage Title RIN
Prerule Chemical Management and Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) 1218-AC74
Prerule Shipyard Fall Protection--Scaffolds, Ladders and Other Working Surfaces 1218-AC85
Proposed Rule Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica 1218-AB70
Proposed Rule Occupational Exposure to Beryllium 1218-AB76
Proposed Rule Quantitative Fit Testing Protocol: Amendment to the Final Rule on Respiratory Protection 1218-AC94
Final Rule Confined Spaces in Construction 1218-AB47
Final Rule Walking Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems 1218-AB80
Final Rule Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses 1218-AC49

The full Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions is available here.



Tagged categories: Combustible Dust; Confined space; Fall protection; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Regulations; Respiratory Protection Standard; Silica; U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.