The federal agency that investigates workplace disasters involving chemicals has identified its seven most important chemical safety improvement goals. The agency’s reason for choosing these specific goals: catastrophes that have killed dozens of workers, injured hundreds more and caused millions of dollars in property damage.
The No. 1 item on the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s Most Wanted Safety Improvements list is the adoption of a combustible dust standard for general industry. The CSB calls OSHA’s lack of response on the recommendation it first made in 2006 unacceptable.
Four out of seven improvements the CSB calls for involve combustible dust:
- Issue a standard designed to prevent combustible dust fire and explosions in general industry, based on National Fire Protection Association voluntary dust explosion standards
- Proceed expeditiously to create the standard to reduce hazards from fire and explosion from combustible powders and dust
- Ensure the standard includes coverage for combustible metal dusts including iron and steel powders, and
- Develop and publish a proposed combustible dust standard for general industry within one year.
After investigating three fatal combustible dust incidents that claimed the lives of 14 workers all in 2003, the CSB conducted a comprehensive combustible dust hazard investigation study that was released in late 2006 with the first recommendation.
Following an explosion of combustible sugar dust at the Imperial Sugar plant in Port Wentworth, GA, in 2008 that killed 14 workers, the CSB made the second recommendation.
The CSB made the third and fourth recommendations to OSHA following a series of three iron-dust flash fires at the Hoeganaes facility in Gallatin, TN in which five workers were killed.
OSHA’s process to create a combustible dust standard is underway.
The other three requested improvements and the events that triggered them are:
- Ensure coverage under the Process Safety Management (PSM) standard for atmospheric storage tanks that could be involved in a potential catastrophic release from being interconnected to a covered process with 10,000 pounds of a flammable substance. The recommendation was issue following the CSB investigation of a fatal explosion in 2001 of a corroded storage tank containing spent sulfuric acid and flammable hydrocarbons at the Motiva refinery in Delaware City, DE.
- Revise the PSM standard to require management of change reviews for mergers and acquisitions that may impact process safety. This recommendation was issued following the 2005 explosions and fire at the BP Texas City refinery which killed 15 workers and injured 180 others.
- Issue a fuel gas safety standard for construction and general industry. This recommendation was issued following two catastrophes in 2010. One was an explosion that caused a roof collapse at the ConAgra Slim Jim facility in Garner, NC, killing four workers and injuring 67 others. The other explosion at the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown, CT, killed six workers and injured 50 others.