On February 7, 2008 an Imperial Sugar refinery exploded in Port Wentworth, Georgia, killing 14 workers and injuring dozens more. The cause of the explosion was combustible dust.
Following the disaster, OSHA representatives were chastised during a hearing at the House Education and Labor Committee for their apparent lack of concern about protecting U.S. workers from the dangers of combustible dust. At the time, OSHA stressed that they were assessing whether or not regulatory action was necessary to create standards for combustible dust in the workplace.
More than a year later, it seems OSHA is still unmotivated to address the topic. OSHA recently announced its regulatory agenda for the next year, and apparently there are no plans to propose a rule for combustible dust.
Rather, OSHA indicates a pre-rulemaking notice will be issued instead. A pre-rulemaking notice is supposedly requested when more information on a subject is required. However, many suggest these pre-rule notices are nothing more than a placeholder for actual progress in worker safety. Rather than propose actionable changes, OSHA simply “requests more information” to skirt the issue.
Now, it seems Georgia’s senators would like to see more action from OSHA on the issue of combustible dust. Recently, both Senator Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss publicly urged OSHA to officially release regulations regarding this dangerous work hazard. Based on briefings of the Imperial Sugar explosion compiled by the Chemical Safety Board, Senator Isakson had this to say:
“I believe we should embrace the findings of the Chemical Safety Board, including the recommendation that OSHA establish mandatory standards modeled after the National Fire Protection Association guidelines. Sen. Chambliss and I are working closely with Secretary Solis to ensure that the lessons we have learned as a result of the Port Wentworth disaster will help us prevent future tragedies.”
OSHA will be releasing its most recent version of its regulatory agenda in December. Only time will tell whether the additional pressure from these Georgia legislators will prove effective.