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Public Statements

Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Madam Chairman, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 5522, the Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act and commend Chairman GEORGE MILLER for his tireless efforts on behalf of America's workers.

Our Nation was horrified by news of the February 7 explosion at the Imperial Sugar Refinery in Port Wentworth, GA. I think we were even more stunned by the fact that it was caused by ``combustible dust.'' Although, combustible dust explosions are well documented by the Chemical Safety Board, most employers, workers and the general public are not aware that accumulated dust can cause such destruction. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that not enough is being done to keep workplaces clean and safe from this hazard.

During a March 12, 2008, hearing in the Education and Labor Committee, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, Assistant Secretary, Edwin Foulke testified that OSHA has established a housekeeping and ventilation standard, as well as developed programs to address combustible dust hazards. While I appreciate these efforts, frankly they are not enough.

For one, the housekeeping standard is too vague to be useful, and secondly, these measures are ``voluntary.'' When regulations are voluntary, people do not follow them. In my experience as the former President of UNITE HERE Local 617, most employers do not address hazards if doing so interferes with their bottom line or costs time and money.

At this same hearing, witnesses also testified that absent a comprehensive OSHA standard for combustible dust, no one can be confident that dust hazards will be cited and corrected prior to the occurrence of additional accidents.

In fact, the Chemical Safety Board ruled that in addition to the Imperial Sugar incident, several other recent refinery explosions in North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana could have been prevented if the facilities had complied with the safety and engineering practices contained in National Fire Protection Association standard 484 and 654.

I have often said in this House how frustrated I am that we wait for an emergency to occur before reacting, rather than working to prevent it in the first place. We tend to pass laws, establish regulations and mitigate hazards after disasters and fatalities have occurred.

Today, by passing the Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act, we take a proactive step to protect workers rather than waiting for even one more injury.

Specifically, this bill directs OSHA to issue an interim final combustible dust standard within 90 days. The standard would include measures to minimize hazards associated with combustible dust through improved housekeeping, engineering controls, worker training and a written combustible dust safety program. OSHA would then be required to issue a final standard within eighteen months. In addition to items required in the interim standard, the final standard would include requirements for building design and explosion protection. Finally, OSHA would have to include combustible dusts in the Hazard Communication Standard which requires workers to receive information and training about the hazards they face.

Again, I thank Chairman MILLER and the committee staff for their hard work on this legislation and urge all my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on final passage.

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