Federal lawmakers target combustible dust accidents

California readers who have toured old flour or textile mill museums may have learned from their tour guides that combustible dust used to be a serious health and safety hazard to workers. Combustible dust, defined as any finely divided solid material that is 420 microns or smaller in diameter, has caused some of the worst factory explosions in history. In addition, the fine particles can accumulate on workers' lungs, leading to serious respiratory conditions.

The problem of industrial dust can be largely solved thanks to the technological invention of industrial vacuums, which can filter the air inside factories and remove the tiny particles. It may come as a surprise to many readers, then, to learn that combustible dust explosions still cause many serious or even fatal workplace injuries to workers across the nation. In the last five years, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board estimates there have been 50 combustible dust explosions or fires. Those incidents caused 15 deaths and injured 127 workers.

To fight this apparent problem, federal lawmakers and agency officials are hoping to pass legislation and standards that will make workplaces exposed to combustible dust safer. Recently, a bill was re-introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would give the Occupational Safety and Health Administration the power to take preventative measures against employers with unsafe accumulations of industrial dust. Called the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act, the law would empower OSHA to apply the same safety standards across all industries.

The tragedy of this post is that combustible dust explosions are preventable in many cases. For workers injured in a such a workplace accident, an experienced workers' compensation attorney can hold employers accountable, ensuring that medical expenses are paid and that workers are allowed to make a full recovery.

Source: Woodworking Network, "Combustible Dust Bill Re-Introduced in House," Rich Christianson, Feb. 17, 2013

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