OSHA Combustible Dust Regulations are Delayed, Not Dead

Don’t Wait to Implement Your Dust Mitigation Solution

In April 2009, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) announced that it was starting work on comprehensive rulemaking regarding the mitigation of combustible dust in industrial settings. The organization published an ANPR (Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) in October of that year, announcing their intentions for the forthcoming dust standard and seeking comments, data, and other information related to combustible dust hazards in the workplace from those in affected industries.

The combustible dust rulemaking process continued throughout 2010 and 2011 with a series of stakeholder and “Expert Panel” meetings. However, the next required step—convening a SBREFA (Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act) panel—has been postponed numerous times. Originally scheduled for April 2011, the SBREFA panel is now tentatively scheduled for August 2016. (It has not yet occurred as of this writing.)

A Complex Problem

Dust-related fires and/or explosions can have many possible causes, making it difficult to determine what is required for responsible regulation. OSHA’s own definition of combustible dust reads, in part, “all combustible particulate solids of any size, shape or chemical composition that could present a fire or deflagration hazard when suspended in air or other oxidizing medium.” The solids in question include wood, fertilizer, sugar, textiles, and many other substances—essentially, nearly all manufacturing generates some amount of combustible dust.

“It’s not an intrinsic hazard; it’s created by multiple factors that differ by substance and setting,” said Marc Freeman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a Bloomberg BNA article from January of this year. “In order to create a standard around combustible dust, it will take a lot of work.”

It seems likely that OSHA officials did not foresee the combustible dust issue being quite so complex. This complexity has, in part, put the rulemaking processes on the back burner. “This does not appear to be a priority for OSHA like it once was,” Jess McCluer, director of safety and regulatory affairs for the NGFA (National Grain and Feed Association), said in the same Bloomberg BNA piece. “After understanding the complexity it seems to have moved to the side. And other issues have moved to the top of the priority list.”

Failure to Plan is Planning to Fail

Though the rulemaking has been delayed, it is all but inevitable that the new standards will go through sometime in the near future. When they do, you need to be ready to meet those standards immediately—there is no grace period. As you likely know, failure to comply with OSHA regulations can lead to hefty fines.

A similar situation occurred several years ago when OSHA implemented their indoor air pollution standards. It was long and well known that the organization would be passing tougher air pollution mitigation standards, as were the requirements of those standards. But most of those to whom the regulations would apply waited to act until after regulations were put in place and being enforced.

This put the affected businesses in a tight spot. They had to have pollution mitigation equipment installed ASAP to meet OSHA’s deadlines, but because so many waited to take action, equipment vendors and/or installers were quickly booked solid and unable to meet the companies’ scheduling needs.

Additionally, because they needed “rush jobs,” many of these companies likely spent far more than they needed to. Rush jobs tend to cost more simply because they are rush jobs, and any sudden high demand for goods or services is sure to drive up prices, as well. And many companies, in their haste to meet regulations, may have had mitigation systems installed that were not optimized for the needs of their factories—they may have paid for “too much” system, or installed equipment that doesn’t work as well as it could or should.

To avoid these pitfalls and ensure that your facility meets OSHA’s dust mitigation standards when the time comes, it’s best to start early and stay ahead of the game. Nol-Tec offers complete combustible dust solutions, and has the experience and expertise to develop a mitigation system that is custom-tailored to your processes and your facility. Through on-site evaluations of your processes and small-scale trials conducted in our testing lab using the actual materials you work with, we can create a dust mitigation solution that delivers the perfect level of performance for your needs.

With time to plan ahead and make sure everything gets done right, you can get the right equipment for your needs, at the best possible price and installed on your schedule. Contact Nol-Tec today to get started on your combustible dust mitigation solution.