NATIONAL EMPHASIS PROGRAM
Office of General Industry Enforcement
Directorate of Enforcement Programs
OSHA initiated its Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP) on October 18, 2007, to inspect facilities that generate or handle combustible dusts that pose a deflagration/explosion or other fire hazard. The NEP was based in large part on a Region III Special Emphasis Program that had begun in 2000.
Although OSHA, at present, does not have a specific standard on combustible dust hazards, there are several existing OSHA standards that apply to combustible dust handling facilities. The NEP focuses on these standards, as well as the General Duty Clause.
Following a massive sugar dust explosion at Imperial Sugar's Port Wentworth Georgia facility on February 7, 2008, that killed 14 workers and injured many more, OSHA revised the Combustible Dust NEP to focus on industries with more frequent and high consequence dust incidents, and to include more inspections. The revised NEP targets 64 types of industries. In addition, all sugar refineries (beet and sugarcane) in Federal jurisdiction will be inspected. OSHA also strongly recommended that all State Plans participate in the NEP.
The Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program applies to 64 industries (SICs / NAICs), including wood products, food products, metal products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber and plastic products, paper products, furniture, electric and sanitary services, transportation equipment, durable goods, and textile mills. Each area office is required to conduct at least four inspections per year. The figures below include inspections data from October 2007 through June 2009. Since the inception of the NEP, more than 1000 inspections have been conducted, including inspections conducted by State Plan States. (See Figure 1). To date, 11 states have adopted OSHA's NEP and an additional four states have plans to adopt the program.
The wood products, food products, chemicals, metal products and rubber / plastic products industries account for more than 70 percent of inspections under the NEP. See Figures 2 and 3 below for the types of industries inspected along with their numbers and percent distributions.
OSHA has found more than 4900 violations (See Figure 4) at the facilities inspected pursuant to the Combustible Dust NEP. This includes not only combustible dust related violations, but also violations such as lockout/tagout, walking and working surfaces, and other hazards.
Because hazards associated with combustible dust normally result in fires and/or explosions, the injuries would generally be burns, possibly resulting in death. OSHA categorized 74 percent of violations found at the facilities under Federal jurisdiction as serious. 34 percent of violations in State Plan inspections were also characterized as serious (See Figure 5).
Under the NEP, the Hazard Communication standard is the standard most frequently cited with respect to combustible dust related hazards, followed by the housekeeping standard (see Figures 6 and 7). OSHA's housekeeping standard at 29 C.F.R. 1910.22 not only applies to typical housekeeping hazards but also applies to dust accumulation hazards. In several instances, OSHA found combustible dust accumulations ankle deep and covering an entire room.
Employers were also cited for violations of personal protective equipment, electrical equipment for hazardous (classified) locations, first aid, powered industrial trucks, and fire extinguisher standards during these inspections. OSHA compliance officers also found that compressed air in excess of 30 psi was being used for cleaning purposes. As well as violating an OSHA standard, the use of compressed air to clean accumulated dust would create a dust cloud and can result in deflagration or explosion if the ignition sources are present. OSHA issued General Duty Clause citations for this practice (see Figure 6 and 7).
Figure 7 shows that 20 percent of combustible dust related violations pertain to housekeeping, 27 percent to Hazard Communication, and 11 percent each to electrical, personal protective equipment, fire extinguishers and hazards addressed by the General Duty Clause.
In the absence of an OSHA standard, OSHA can cite Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, the General Duty Clause, for serious hazards, such as fire and explosion hazards for which there are feasible means of abatement. OSHA has referenced NFPA standards 654, 484, 61, and 664 as potential means of abating combustible dust hazards in citations issued under the NEP. OSHA also referenced NFPA 499 in recommending safe practices for electrical equipment used in Class II locations, and NFPA 68 and 69 for explosion prevention and protection techniques. Some of the hazards cited under the General Duty Clause are listed below.
The following summarizes some General Duty Clause citations issued by OSHA under the Combustible Dust NEP:
OSHA found that the majority of facilities inspected under the NEP had dust collectors located inside the buildings without proper explosion protections systems, such as explosion vents or explosion suppression systems.
The average number of violations per NEP inspection is 6.5 in Federal enforcement as compared to 3.1 for the other inspections (See Figure 8). This means that OSHA is finding twice the number of violations at combustible dust handling facilities when compared to all other facilities in general.
The total citation penalty amount OSHA has proposed under the Combustible Dust NEP is: $14,848,686. However, OSHA proposed the third largest fine in its history, exceeding $8.7 million, following Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion in February 2008. The average penalty proposed per serious violation during combustible dust NEP inspections is $1233 for Federal OSHA, and $791 for State Plans.
OSHA found during the inspection of combustible dust handling facilities that only 18 to 22 % of facilities inspected were found to be in compliance with OSHA requirements (see Figure 10). OSHA's goal is that 100 percent of these inspections find compliance with OSHA requirements.
OSHA has included combustible dust hazards in the Process Safety Management course it provides its compliance officers for more than three years. Over 350 compliance officers have received the PSM segment of training on combustible dust hazards. In addition, OTI, OSHA's Training Institute, has developed a specialized comprehensive three and one-half day course on Combustible Dust Hazards and Controls, which it began conducting since December 2007. Since the inception of this course, more than 200 Federal and state OSHA personnel have successfully completed it, and more classes are scheduled. OTI has also conducted two refresher seminars for nearly 1,400 Federal and State Plan personnel across the nation. Training is limited to OSHA and State personnel.
In 2005, OSHA issued a Safety and Health Information Bulletin entitled Combustible Dust in Industry: Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Fire and Explosions. This comprehensive guidance highlights the hazards associated with combustible dusts, the work practices and engineering controls that reduce the potential for a dust explosion or that reduce the danger to employees if such an explosion should occur, and the training needed to protect employees from these hazards. In March 2008, OSHA mailed copies of this guidance to 30,000 employers in industries it identified as being an at-risk for dust hazards, a proactive step to remind employers of their duty to furnish their employees with places of employment that are free of hazards and to provide them with instruction and information as to how this can be accomplished.
OSHA is providing other assistance to employers and employees to protect against combustible dust hazards. Specifically, OSHA has created:
OSHA is taking, and will continue to take, strong enforcement actions to address combustible dust hazards. The Agency's strong enforcement of applicable regulatory and statutory requirements combined with education and outreach to employers and employees is helping to protect the safety and health of working men and women who may be exposed to combustible dust hazards. However, OSHA recognized that there are limitations to this approach, and OSHA has also initiated rulemaking to provide more targeted tools to address combustible dust hazards.