In 2011 government agencies are poised to more strictly enforce dust management regulations, and operators in the grain handling and feed manufacturing industry will need to know the rules as they evolve or face the consequences.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s (CSB) study sharpened its focus on the dangers of dust in its 2006 Combustible Dust Hazard Study, where it reported 281 combustible incidents caused by combustible dust and resulted in 119 workers’ deaths from 1980 to 2005. The CSB found an additional 16 deaths and 84 injuries occurred from 2006 to 2008.
Triggering regulatory action, few would argue that the catastrophic 2008 dust explosion at Imperial Sugar Refinery that claimed 14 lives and over $275 million in damages forever changed the face of dust management. Noting poor housekeeping, flawed design and the failure to properly maintain its equipment as contributing and preventive factors in the explosion, OSHA brought down $8.7 million in fines against the company for its “willful” safety violations.
As a direct result, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) moved to adopt the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) guidelines as enforceable laws.
In 2009 OSHA published an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” outlining the potential risks to the grain handling industry. There are a few elements to this proposal that made industry stakeholders vocalize their displeasure with the additions. Most notably the proposal to lower the housekeeping action level from 1/8 inch dust standard to 1/16 inch — potentially down to 1/32 inch.
The current standard applies to grain elevators, feed mills, flour mills, rice mills, dust pelletizing plants, dry corn mills, etc,.; however, the new standard would hold other sectors besides elevators to similar housekeeping standards. Many feel this puts too much emphasis on dust and may lead to too little attention paid to other risks, e.g., explosion-prevention tools, such as controlling ignition controls, conducting preventive maintenance, and using equipment monitoring to detect high temperatures and overloads.
According to Paul A. Luther, EHS manager, Land-O-Lakes Purina Feed LLC, the new NFPA Combustible Dust Agenda lumps five combustible dust documents — agricultural and food processing dust, metal dust, combustible particles, sulfur dust and wood dust — into one rule. The National Grain & Feed Association’s stance is that the guideline specific to grain elevators should be excluded from this conglomeration because these industry categories are vastly different so a combined standard will be confusing and dilute the proven impact of the existing standard.
Many in the grain handling industry agree, as they believe the existing grain handling standard is sufficient to address combustible dusts, noting that the grain handling standard would be a good model for a combustible dust standard, citing the effectiveness of its housekeeping section and should be applied to other agriculture-related sectors not currently encompassed by the standard.
In a July 2010 Web-based stakeholder meeting, OSHA officials had not yet established a timeline for completing action on a combustible dust standard; however, OSHA said that a Small Business Advocacy Review panel will be established by April 2011 to review the draft proposed rule and related analyses prepared by OSHA. The panel will have 120 days to consider the proposal and provide recommendations.
The Standards Council met in January to further discuss this consolidation.
“Based on this schedule, it appears OSHA may not issue a proposed standard until fall 2011, at the earliest,” Luther says.
Luther and Jonathan Snare, partner in the labor and employment practice group for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, addressed this topic at an educational session at the NGFA’s Country Elevator Conference held Dec. 6, 2010 in Indianapolis, IN.