CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration needs to move much more quickly to set standards that could prevent combustible dust explosions like the one that killed three workers last December at a Hancock County metals recycling plant, a government watchdog agency said Wednesday.
U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigators called on the Labor Department to propose broad new standards on combustible dust within a year.
The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been working on the combustible dust issue for years, but as recently as July OSHA officials said they were "not able to project an estimate for when we will publish a proposed standard on combustible dust."
"We would like OSHA to come out with a timetable to deal with this," board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
Moure-Eraso and other board members were in Gallatin, Tenn., Wednesday night for a public meeting where they were to release the findings of their investigation of a series of combustible dust incidents. Between January and May, three iron-dust flash fires at the local Hoeganaes Corp. powered metal facility killed a total of five workers.
CSB investigators have concluded that unsafe accumulations of iron dust were a factor in all three incidents at Hoeganaes, and that such dust is combustible and presents a "serious flash fire hazard."
A wide range of common combustible materials can explode in finely powdered form, including metals, wood, coal, flour, sugar, plastics and many chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
After an extensive investigation, the CSB issued a 2006 report that identified 281 dust fires and explosions that killed 119 workers and injured 718 others nationwide between 1980 and 2005.