By James L. Curtis and Meagan Newman

OSHA recently announced that it will hold a forum to explore methods for preventing combustible dust explosions and gather expert views on possible regulatory options for addressing combustible dust hazards. Combustible dusts include fine particles, fibers, chips, chunks or flakes that, under certain conditions, can cause a fire or explosion when suspended in air. Types of dusts include metal wood, plastic, rubber, coal, flour, sugar and paper, among others. Representatives from industry, academia, research groups, insurance-underwriter organizations, labor, and government will participate in the discussion.

This forum follows OSHA’s efforts to address combustible dust hazards in its 2007 National Emphasis Program, which focused inspection efforts on facilities that create or handle combustible dusts. According to OSHA, “results from these inspections indicated that facilities had unusually high numbers of general duty clause violations, indicating a strong need for a combustible dust standard.” In October 2009, OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking calling for comments to help the agency develop a combustible dust standard. The agency received over 100 comments from interested parties.

There is also momentum on this issue in Congress. In February of this year Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act (H.R. 522). If passed, this legislation would require the Secretary of Labor to issue an interim occupational safety and health standard addressing worker exposure to combustible dust within one year and a proposed rule within 18 months.

The OSHA Combustible Dust Expert Forum will be held on May 13, 2011 at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. According to OSHA’s press release, space is limited for non-participating observers. To register, individuals are directed to contact Bill Hamilton at 202-693-2077 by May 6, 2011. OSHA plans to make a summary of the meeting available on its website.