January 13, 2012 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has warned about the dangers of combustible dust before, and its new report on a series of disasters at the Hoeganaes facility in Gallatin, Tennessee once again highlights how deadly this hazard can be. In three separate incidents at the Hoeganaes powdered metals plant, fires killed a total of five workers and injured three more. Here’s a summary of the CSB’s findings:

The CSB investigation found that significant amounts of fine iron powder had accumulated over time at the Hoeganaes facility, and that while the company knew from its own testing and experience with flash fires in the plant that the dust was combustible, it did not take the necessary action to reduce the hazards through engineering controls and basic housekeeping. The investigation also found that Hoeganaes did not institute procedures such as combustible gas monitoring or provide training for employees on avoiding flammable gas fires and explosions.

The Board issued several safety recommendations, including that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), develop and publish a proposed combustible dust standard within one year and ensure that the new standard includes coverage for combustible iron and steel powders.

The CSB first made an official recommendation to OSHA about a combustible dust standard in 2006. In 2007, OSHA started a National Emphasis Program to do more inspections and enforcement in industries with combustible dust hazards. In 2009, it announced it would begin the rulemaking process on a combustible dust standard for general industry. When the disasters occurred at the Hoeganaes plant, OSHA had not yet proposed this standard.

To see more about how combustible dust turned into deadly fires at the Hoeganaes plant, watch the CSB’s “Iron in the Fire” video.

In other news:

Vanity Fair: In a nation that gives special emphasis to the concept of duty, 18,000 workers have labored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant perorming cleanup work since three of plant’s reactors melted down following the March tsunami.

Charleston Gazette: The Monsanto plant in Nitro, West Virginia offered employees jobs that could feed their families and put their children through college, but a lawsuit now going to trial alleges that it also spewed dioxin pollution that damaged the health of workers and community members. The jury, however, won’t be considering whether Monsanto should pay for dioxin cleanup.

Washington Post: Metrobus drivers report that the demands of their job make it hard to take adequate bathroom breaks.

New York Times: When thieves target drugstores in search of pain drugs, pharmacists fear for their safety.

CIDRAP: CDC calls for a voluntary, nonpunitive surveillance system for laboratory-acquired infections.

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