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Bill targets fire, explosion risks of ignitable dust in workplaces

As has been noted in prior posts for this blog, the need for workers suffering work-related accidents and on-the-job injuries to collect workers' compensation benefits for lost wages, medical expenses and other costs is a constant in many industries in Ohio and across the country.

Certain inherently or potentially dangerous conditions similarly permeate workplaces across a wide spectrum. Employees working in fields as disparate as the coal industry and plastic manufacturing, for example, face a common danger from what is commonly referred to as combustible dust. That particular work hazard is a well-noted concern among legislators, safety regulators at OSHA and labor advocates, and a concerted push is now on to do something about it.

The need is certainly great. A fire at a sugar plant in Georgia in 2007 that killed 14 workers was attributed to a huge explosion caused by igniting dust particles. That tragedy was followed by accidents more recently at an iron plant in Tennessee that took the lives of five workers. According to a federal safety board, there have been 50 explosions and fires in workplaces across the country since the sugar-plant incident in Georgia, resulting in 15 deaths and many more injuries.

There have been legislative attempts to address that in the past, but efforts by OSHA and other groups have been hindered by many businesses contending that big changes would be prohibitively expensive and no more safety inducing than is the case when employers follow voluntary standards.

A bill just introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives hopes to result in final legislation that gives safety standards focusing on combustible dust real teeth. The current draft, which will need to be commented on by interested industry groups and revised into a final rule -- which could take several years -- mandates more extensive worker training, more thorough cleaning and inspections and a greater attention to work practices and equipment to minimize fire and explosion risks.

Source: Woodworking Network, "Combustible dust bill re-introduced in House," Rich Christianson, Feb. 17, 2013

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