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The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) officially declared the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) response to seven recommendations on standards for combustible dust, fuel gas and process safety management to be “unacceptable.”
The board also voted unanimously at a July 25, 2013, public meeting in Washington, D.C., to make the adoption of a combustible dust standard for general industry the first priority in a stepped-up advocacy program.
“Over the years, the CSB has made a number of recommendations to OSHA in the aftermath of tragic accidents that have killed dozens of workers, injured hundreds more, and caused millions of dollars in property damage,” said CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso. “Yet insufficient progress has been made, and many years have passed in some cases, without a definitive OSHA response. Today’s vote by the board designating OSHA’s responses to be ‘open-unacceptable’ means that we strongly believe these recommended regulatory changes are still needed to save lives and prevent accidents in the chemical industry,” he said.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The board does not issue citations or fines but instead makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups and regulatory agencies such as OSHA.
CSB member Mark Griffon said that to “just blame OSHA” for a rulemaking delay does not address the root cause of the delays. He quoted a recent Government Accountability Office report that found that it took OSHA more than eight years, on average, to develop a safety standard. “We, the CSB, need to look into this, why it takes so long to issue safety standards and what can the CSB do to address this problem,” he said.
Recommendations at Issue
Largely addressing deficiencies in OSHA’s
process safety management (PSM) standard, the recommendations are:
The board then voted that OSHA’s response to long-standing recommendations calling for the issuance and expedited action on a comprehensive general industry standard on combustible dust was “open-unacceptable.”
The first of these recommendations was issued in 2006, following a CSB study on the hazards of combustible dust conducted after a series of explosions and fires. The board recommended a new regulation be based on existing National Fire Protection Association standards.
Three years later, in 2009, following an explosion at the Imperial Sugar Company in Port Wentworth, Ga., that killed 14 workers in 2008, the CSB called on OSHA to “proceed expeditiously” on its then-announced intention to conduct rulemaking on a dust standard.
In December 2011, the CSB again called on OSHA to move on a dust standard, following a series of three iron-dust related flash fires at the Hoeganaes Corp. facility in Gallatin, Tenn., where five workers were killed.
“The board has called on OSHA a number of times over the past several years to act on this known, insidious hazard that continues to claim the lives of workers and cause enormous damage and loss of jobs. It’s critical that OSHA address the recommendations,” said Moure-Eraso.
OSHA Response: Resources Are Limited
Thomas Galassi, OSHA’s director of enforcement programs, responded at the meeting that the agency is committed to addressing each of the hazards, though its standard-setting resources are limited and must be prioritized.
“OSHA cares deeply about the safety and health of all workers, and we act aggressively to enforce all of the standards impacting the process industries,” he said, also noting that “the health and safety of workers in America is ultimately the employer’s responsibility.”
Galassi testified that OSHA considers a number of factors before deciding to address a hazard by promulgating a new standard, including:
“Rulemaking, therefore, is a tool reserved for the most dangerous and widespread hazards,” he said.
Regarding the CSB’s specific recommendations, Galassi said that:
Meanwhile, OSHA has initiated a national emphasis program for dust that has led to 3,700 inspections and 14,000 violations cited, as well as 30,000 copies of a bulletin on the hazard sent out. It also has issued a new hazard communication standard that requires combustible dust hazards to be disclosed on labels and safety data sheets, Galassi said.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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