U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the senior Democratic member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), the senior Democrat of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, reintroduced legislation today to prevent workplace explosions caused by combustible industrial dusts.
Five years ago, a massive explosion the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga. killed 14 workers, injured dozens and caused millions of dollars of property damage. Federal investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) concluded that the explosion was fueled by "massive accumulations of combustible sugar dust throughout the packaging building."
Since the February 7, 2008 explosion at Imperial Sugar, there have been 50 combustible dust explosions or fires, causing 15 deaths and 127 injuries, according to estimates from the Chemical Safety Board.
The Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act (H.R. 691), would require the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue interim protections to prevent combustible dusts, like coal, sugar, or metals dust, from building up in industrial facilities to hazardous levels and explode. OSHA began rulemaking in this area almost four years ago, but it will take at least another four years before final protections are in place.
"Five years ago, the explosion at the Imperial Sugar Refinery sounded the alarm on this very serious issue," said Rep. Barrow. "This legislation makes the workplace safer for folks in my district and across the country, and is a commonsense solution to a problem facing our workforce nationwide. In 2008, the House passed this bill, and I encourage the current leadership to bring this bill to the floor as soon as possible."
"While OSHA has taken some limited steps to protect workers and property from combustible dust explosions, the widely recommended protections necessary to prevent these explosions are caught up in red tape and special interest objections," said Rep. Miller. "Because of the red tape that ties OSHA's hands, it can take an average of eight years to put new protections like this into place. While some industries have taken steps to address these hazards, workers are still being killed and injured. The only way to overcome these unnecessary delays is through the targeted legislation that will expedite protections, because red tape must not be turned into an excuse not to protect workers from a preventable tragedy."
"As they walk out the front door every day, American men and women should not have to worry about entering a dangerous workplace," said Rep. Courtney. "Expediting and implementing standards like those in the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act will save lives and protect our workers from the very preventable hazards of combustible dust."
When dust builds up to dangerous levels in industrial worksites, it can become fuel for fires and explosions. Combustible dust can come from many sources, such as sugar, flour, feed, plastics, wood, rubber, furniture, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, dyes, coal, and metals, and therefore poses a risk across a number of different industries throughout the United States.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed similar legislation in April 2008 by a bipartisan vote of 247 to 165.