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CSB Releases “Call to Action” on Combustible Dust Hazards

U.S. Chemical Safety Board, October 24, 2018

Today, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), as part of its investigation into the May 2017 Didion Mill explosion, issued “Call to Action: Combustible Dust” to gather comments on the management and control of combustible dust from companies, regulators, inspectors, safety training providers, researchers, unions, and the workers affected by dust-related hazards.

Our dust investigations have identified the understanding of dust hazards and the ability to determine a safe dust level in the work place as common challenges,” said CSB Interim Executive Kristen Kulinowski. “While there is a shared understanding of the hazards of dust, our investigations have found that efforts to manage those hazards have often failed to prevent a catastrophic explosion. To uncover why that is, we are initiating this Call to Action to gather insights and feedback from those most directly involved with combustible dust hazards.

This initiative asks for information from all individuals and entities involved in the safe conduct of work within inherently dust-producing environments at risk for dust explosions. The agency seeks input on a variety of complex issues, including: recognizing and measuring “unsafe” levels of dust in the workplace, managing responsibilities and expectations that sometimes are at odds with each other (e.g., performing mechanical integrity preventative maintenance while simultaneously striving to minimize dust releases in the work environment), and the methods for communicating the low-frequency but high-consequence hazards of combustible dust in actionable terms for those working and overseeing these environments.

A full list of questions can be found HERE.

Comments can be emailed to combustibledust@csb.gov now until November 26, 2018. The CSB will use the information provided to explore new opportunities for safety improvements.

Dust incidents continue to impact a wide swath of industries. In 2006, the CSB identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005. One hundred and nineteen workers were fatally injured, 718 more were hurt, and industrial facilities were extensively damaged. The incidents occurred in 44 states, in many different industries, and involved a variety of different materials. Since the publication of the study in 2006, the CSB has confirmed an additional 105 combustible dust incidents and conducted in-depth investigations of five, including most recently the Didion Milling dust explosion in Cambria, Wisconsin, that fatally injured five workers and demolished the milling facility.

The CSB has issued four recommendations to OSHA calling for the issuance of a comprehensive general industry standard for combustible dust, and combustible dust safety is on the agency’s Drivers of Critical Chemical Safety Change list. To date, there is no general industry standard.

CSB Investigator Cheryl MacKenzie said, “Our investigation of the Didion incident continues and we are analyzing evidence to understand the specifics leading up to the tragic event. However, this investigation reinforces what we are seeing across many industries—that there needs to be a more inclusive approach to creating and maintaining a safe work environment amid processes that inherently produce dust.

About the CSB

The CSB is an independent, non-regulatory federal agency whose mission is to drive chemical safety change through independent investigations to protect people and the environment. The agency’s board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical incidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems. For more information, contact public@csb.gov.


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