Feb 11, 2008

OSHA failed to adopt dust rules in 2006.

Top federal safety officials urged the Labor Department in 2006 to adopt critical regulations to prevent deadly dust explosions "like the one suspected in the deadly blast in a Georgia sugar plant Thursday" but the government has failed to do so.

"This is an extremely dangerous component that is not regulated," former safety board chairwoman Carolyn Merritt told The Associated Press Friday. Dust explosion situations "are so dangerous that people have got to pay attention to this. There should be an outcry."

Minuscule dust particles "the smaller the more explosive" often form clouds in enclosed places like manufacturing plants or sugar mills. These clouds are the perfect fuel for a fire that can be set off by any spark or form of ignition. The first explosion kicks up more dust and even more and bigger explosions follow in rapid succession, said C. James Dahn, president of Safety Consulting Engineers of Schaumburg, Ill., and an expert on the topic.

"The biggest problems we have in plants is that people are not aware of the amount of dust that's in their plant," Dahn said. "I've walked into plants where dust is nearly half a foot deep and people are saying, 'It's just dust, we don't worry about it.' They did when it blew the plant apart. Dust can be an explosive hazard."