House Passes Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Act

The House has just passed the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Act, H.R. 5522 by a vote of 247-165. This bill would require the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue rules regulating combustible industrial dusts, like sugar dust, that can build up to hazardous levels and explode. In early February the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, exploded, killing 13 workers and severely injuring many more. OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which have launched a major investigation into the Imperial Sugar explosion, have concluded that the explosion was caused by combustible sugar dust. In 2006, following a series of fatal combustible dust explosions, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards. It identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers, injured 718 others, and extensively damaged industrial facilities. OSHA has known about these dangers for years, but has failed to act. Even after the Chemical Safety Board urged OSHA in 2006 to issue rules controlling dust hazards, OSHA has never offered any indication that it is planning to issue such rules without being required to do so by law.

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The Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on March 12 with testimony from Tammy Miser, sister of a victim of a 2003 combustible dust explosion in Huntington, IN:

Tammy Miser: “Shawn's back was towards the furnace when they were picking up their tools and there was a blast. Some say Shawn got up and started walking towards the door and then there was a second, more intense blast. Shawn didn't die instantly. He laid on building floor while the aluminum dust burnt through his flesh and muscle tissue. The breaths that he took burnt his internal organs, and the blast took his eyesight. Shawn was still conscious and asking for help… And the two things that I can always remember and that never leave are his last words, ‘I’m in a world of hurt,’ and his last breaths.”

Education and Labor Chairman George Miller spoke against the Republican motion to recommit, which would have effectively gutted the legislation:

Chairman Miller: “These workers in this critical industry are entitled to this protection. And the facts on the ground are, the last time we put a standard was for the food and grain industry and it has turned out to be wildly successful. Why is it wildly successful? Because injuries went down 40%. Fatalities went down 60%. Explosions went down 60%. Don’t you think we know enough now to think that these other workers in this industry are entitled to this protection? But OSHA has done nothing. OSHA has done nothing. And if OSHA is not going to act, we must… We ought to oppose this motion to recommit in the name of the workers, in the name of their families, in the name of our nation we owe to them to protect these workers.”