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June 05, 2013
Complaint leads OSHA to discovery of dramatic hazards

When OSHA inspectors arrived at a New York wood shavings plant, they found all the makings of a catastrophe, including foot-high accumulations of potentially combustible shavings. A complaint brought the compliance officers, who cited the business for 28 violations and levied $233,870 in proposed penalties.

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The OSHA area director noted that, had the conditions remained uncorrected, workers would have continued to face exposure to fire and explosion, engulfment, toxic atmospheres, hearing loss, amputations, hazardous chemicals, and other risks.

Despite the presence of dust and wood shavings, employees apparently were allowed to smoke at the facility. Other hazards present suggest a significant lack of compliance with a variety of OSHA standards. They include:

  • Hazardous accumulations of explosives and combustible wood dust;
  • Lack of a confined space entry program and training;
  • Uninspected powered industrial trucks operated by untrained personnel;
  • Unguarded moving machine parts; and
  • Improperly stored oxygen cylinders.

OSHA responded strongly to the situation. Two willful citations alone resulted in about $108,000 in fines. The area director commented, “The fact that a catastrophic incident has not occurred does not absolve this employer of its responsibility to reduce and prevent risk and eliminate hazards that could injure or kill its workers.”

OSHA continues to work toward a combustible dust standard. In the absence of a final rule, the agency offers guidance and information on its website, http://www.OSHA.gov. Enter “combustible dust” in the Search box.

To prevent combustible dust accidents (and citations!) at your facility, follow these tips:

  • Examine your workplace for materials that can be combustible when finely divided (e.g., sugar, wood shavings, coal), areas where combustible dusts may accumulate, means by which dust can be dispersed into the air, and potential ignition sources.
  • Use dust collection systems and filters.
  • Use cleaning methods that do not generate dust clouds if ignition sources are present.
  • Control ignition sources, such as static electricity, smoking, open flames, sparks, and friction.
  • Make sure sprinklers, explosion protection systems, and other damage control measures are installed and fully functional.

Subscribe to Safety.BLR.com today and access the full checklist of combustible dust safety tips!

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