Workers Still Risk Chemical Exposure
July 27, 2018
The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is once again calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, to enact effective safety standards to protect workers from deadly and injury-causing combustible dust-related fires and explosions in the workplace.
What is Combustible Dust?
Combustible dust is any solid material that contains separate particles and/or pieces – and when it accumulates it can result in numerous hazards. Sometimes, if enough combustible dust is dispersed into the air at once it can cause an event known as deflagration, which is a rapidly-occurring combustion.
How does a Combustible Dust-Related Fire Start?
In order for combustible dust-related fires or explosions to occur, certain factors must be present. According to OSHA, these factors are:
- An ignition source;
- Oxygen in the air;
- A sufficient concentration and quantity of dust particles to be dispersed, and:
- Confinement of the dust cloud
Many different types of materials can be combustible, such as metals like titanium, aluminum, and iron, agricultural products including tobacco, flour, and fertilizer, certain kinds of plastics, carbonaceous materials, and even dyes, rubber, soaps, and some pharmaceuticals.
Workers in Danger
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that people involved in industrial processes that reduce combustible materials are in fact in serious danger for combustible dust-related fires and explosions. What this means is that workers across all different industries are vulnerable to combustible dust. Some at-risk employment industries include:
- Tire and rubber manufacturers;
- Metal (e.g. chromium, iron, aluminum, magnesium, and zinc) processors;
- 3D welders;
- Agricultural workers;
- Food manufacturers, and:
- Pharmaceutical manufacturers, and many others
Not only can combustible dust fires and explosions be catastrophic and deadly, but also they can happen in the blink of an eye. Although they are not among the most common of all workplace hazards, they often bring about tragic consequences. Just a few years ago, there was an explosion in a Chinese car parts factory. As many as 70 people were killed and another 200 injured. In the United States, there have been at least nine combustible dust explosions in the last 16 years. These explosions resulted in more than 60 serious injuries and almost 30 fatalities – all of which were 100% preventable.
Combustible Dust Safety in the Workplace
If employers and employees work together to identify and address workplace hazards, a number of the fatal combustible dust-related fires and explosions that occur could be avoided. When employers fail to protect employees – as well as when they fail to comply with state and federal safety guidelines – workers lives are put in direct and unnecessary danger.
To limit combustible dust fires and explosions, OSHA urges employers to take the following precautions:
- Install dust collection systems and filters to ensure a minimal amount of escaped dust from process equipment and ventilation systems;
- Inspect all areas for dust residues routinely, and clean both open and concealed areas;
- Ensure that adequate damage controls are in place. This includes sprinklers, pressure relief venting, explosion protection systems, and more, and:
- Maintain compliance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard, which entails labeling chemicals, providing employee training, etc.
Do not forget: if you are employed in a workplace where you observe combustible dust hazards, it is crucial to report it to a supervisor or employer. Employees also have the ability to file completely anonymous safety violation complaints through OSHA. If you have more questions about this process or about safety violations that are happening in your workplace, please contact a representative at our firm who can help.
Allentown Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Individuals Injured at Work
If you were injured at work, please contact the Allentown Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.