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Sunday’s Explosion at Flour Mill Shows Need for Combustible Dust Safety Standard

Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Press Contacts: 

Dorry Samuels, (508) 277-7997, dorry.samuels@gmail.com

Sunday’s Explosion at Flour Mill Shows Need for Combustible Dust Safety Standard

Bartlett Milling Company Should Receive ‘Repeat’ and ‘Willful’ Violations in Wake of Explosion

RALEIGH, N.C. – An explosion over the weekend at Statesville, N.C.’s, Bartlett Milling Company is even more tragic because it appears to have been entirely preventable, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health said today.

While no one was killed in this explosion, one man was seriously injured – and this was not the first serious safety violation for the flour and animal feed company.

An October 2011 grain elevator explosion at Bartlett Grain Company in Atchison, Kan., killed six workers. In that incident, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Bartlett Grain with five willful violations and eight serious violations of workplace safety rules. OSHA slapped a whopping $406,000 fine on Bartlett for these violations.

And just six months ago, an OSHA inspection at a Bartlett Milling facility in Kansas found violations of OSHA’s safety standards requiring that potentially explosive grain not be allowed to accumulate.

Accumulation of combustible flour dust is the prime suspect as the cause of Sunday’s explosion.

While OSHA does have rules to prevent explosions in grain handling facilities like Bartlett’s, workers in other industries are not protected from combustible dust explosions.

“Combustible dust is known to be a huge explosion hazard, yet safety regulators have done little to protect workers from exposure to it,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Council of Occupational Safety and Health. “OSHA has been sitting on a combustible dust standard since 2009. Given the prevalence of explosions caused by combustible dust, the agency should promulgate a rule that protects workers from it immediately.”

Congress similarly has done little to prevent combustible dust explosions.

Legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 691) would give federal OSHA one year to issue stronger standards to protect American workers from combustible dust explosions and fires. Similar legislation passed in the House in 2008 by a large bipartisan majority, following an explosion at Imperial Sugar in Wentworth, Ga., that killed 14 workers and seriously injured 38.

“If it is found that accumulated flour dust was responsible for Sunday’s explosion, OSHA should issue repeat and willful violations against Bartlett Milling Company,” O’Connor said. “Having been previously cited for this at another facility, the company should be well aware of these hazards. It was only luck that prevented any deaths in this incident.”

Grain bin deaths and combustible dust explosions were featured in recent investigations by NPR, the Center for Public Integrity and the Kansas City Star. According to OSHA, there were an average of 7.5 grain explosions annually between 2002 and 2011, the news organizations reported.

The American Industrial Health Association, which represents more than 10,000 health and safety professionals, sent a letter yesterday to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), in support of his abovementioned Congressional legislation. The letter also calls for an additional inspection and maintenance requirement and suggests extending the 18-month time frame the bill calls for to propose a final standard, The Hill reported this week.

OSHA should enact a combustible dust standard immediately to protect workers from this entirely preventable hazard on the job, O’Connor said. 

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The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health is a federation of local and statewide organizations; a private, non-profit coalition of labor unions, health and technical professionals, and others interested in promoting and advocating for worker health and safety.

To learn more about the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, visit: http://www.coshnetwork.org.