Dust explosions: Will OSHA hold another meeting?

May 27, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

On January 31, 2011 a fatal flash fire at Hoeganaes Corporation fatally injured a one worker and seriously burned as another. The facility produces powdered iron and is located about twenty miles outside of Nashville, Tenn. Photo from U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

The news out of Tennessee this morning about another incident at a local metal powder processing facility:

Four workers were injured, at least one critically, after an explosion at Hoeganaes Corporation’s facility on Airport Road today, a city official said.

The fire occurred between 6 and 7 a.m.

The worker in critical condition was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

This is the third explosion at the manufacturing facility since January.

We don’t yet know what was involved in this latest incident. But already, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board was investigating this plant, following the two previous flash fires. In its most recent update, the CSB said:

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) today released test results confirming preliminary conclusions that two flash fires which occurred at the Hoeganaes Corporation plant in Gallatin, Tennessee—one fatal—involved the combustion of iron powder which had accumulated throughout the facility and became airborne in combustible concentrations. A flash fire on January 31st killed one worker and seriously burned another. A similar fire occurred on March 29th and caused one injury.

As former CSB Chairman and current board member John Bresland has said:

Combustible dust is an often overlooked hazard at manufacturing facilities, as CSB investigations back to 2003 demonstrate. Among our open recommendations to OSHA from previous accidents is a call for a comprehensive combustible dust standard designed to protect workers and reduce or prevent dust-related hazards.

Among the more recent combustible dust incidents was that December explosion that killed three workers at the AL Solutions facility in New Cumberland, W.Va.

The Obama administration has yet to act on the CSB recommendation, preferring to hold a series of stakeholder meetings on the subject. Maybe the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration will hold another forum on combustible dust …

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