Safety and OSHA News

7 workers burned in flash dust fire; report cites lack of hazard analysis

Poor design of a dust collection system led to a flash fire that burned seven employees – one seriously – at an ink manufacturing plant in New Jersey, according to an investigation. On top of that, the report says the company’s emergency response was also lacking. 

The flash fire at U.S. Ink in East Rutherford on Oct. 9, 2012, resulted from the accumulation of combustible dust inside a poorly designed dust collection system that had been put into operation just four days earlier.

Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) say the dust collection system was so flawed it only took a day to accumulate enough combustible dust to overheat, ignite spontaneously, cause an explosion in a rooftop dust collector and send back a fiery flash that enveloped the seven workers.

The CSB says when workers heard a loud thump that shook the building they congregated in one room. A worker saw flames coming from a tank and got a fire extinguisher. Before he could use it, a fireball erupted and moved toward him. The flames engulfed him and six other workers.

The report’s safety management analysis points to a lack of oversight by company engineers of the contractors who installed the dust collection system.

U.S. Ink’s own policy required a process hazard analysis before the installation of new equipment.

But the company didn’t perform the analysis because it thought it was merely replacing a previous dust collection system with a similar one. In fact, the new system was of an entirely different design.

As for U.S. Ink’s emergency response, a fire coordinator was supposed to use the public address system to announce a fire and pull the alarm box. But the fire coordinator was among the injured and couldn’t perform his duties.

Call for dust reg – again

In this report, the CSB has once again called on OSHA to enact a combustible dust standard. Such a standard has been on the CSB’s “Most Wanted” list since 2013, but it doesn’t appear that one will be coming anytime soon.

In November 2014, OSHA announced a delay on work on a dust standard – it’s now on the agency’s long-term action list. OSHA expects to begin a small business regulatory review (SBREFA) in February 2016, according to its Fall 2014 Regulatory Agenda.

But these dates tend to slip. That creates a real question of whether this regulation would be ready for enactment before the end of the current administration in January 2017.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Director of Government Affairs, Aaron Trippler, predicts the under-development dust standard is “likely going nowhere.” In a survey of AIHA members, combustible dust was atop a list of specific standards that need action.

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