In July 2017, OSHA detached the combustible dust standard from its regulatory agenda and this caused uncertainties in the industry. However, according to some experts, nothing will change but companies should continue creating and implementing their combustible dust programs.
OSHA Can Still Cite Facilities under Existing Standards
The July announcement by OSHA does not affect the Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program in any way. This means that OSHA can still use the NEP to litigate those facilities that are not up to the industry standards.
The NEP is not the only rule that OSHA can use to cite companies – there are more than 20 other standards that touch on combustible dust the common one being the 29 CFR 1910.1200: Hazard Communication for Toxic and Hazardous Substances. This standard directs companies to train workers on the hazards they work with. The General Duty Clause is another standard that OSHA can issue citations under.
Another reason why companies must remain cautious and vigilant is that the workforce is getting more educated and can make complaints to OSHA when their concerns about dust are not addressed. Also, when inspectors are dealing with a complaint not related to dust, the NEP allows the inspectors to expand their checks if they notice a serious hazard.
Fire Marshals and Building Code Inspectors Can Also Issue Combustible Dust Citations
OSHA is not the only regulatory body in place. The fire and building codes also apply and they are mostly based on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes. The 2018 version of the International Fire Code requires compliance with NFPA 652: standards on the fundamental of combustible dust. Fire marshals and building inspectors have a more immediate and devastating option if they notice a problem.
When an OSHA inspector issues a citation, it can take as long as 6 months to get things going as they should. Often, there is litigation and nothing further. However, if a fire marshal finds that your facility is not up to the required standard, they’ll place a sticker right on your door and shut all your activities down.
Insurance companies are tired of the losses and are, therefore, pushing companies to take action on combustible dust. Many insurance companies now need facilities to carry out a dust hazard analysis (DHA), which is an integral part of NFPA 652.
What Should Be The Next Move?
This move by OSHA doesn’t have any regulatory implications. Employers should concentrate to prioritize their combustible dust safety programs. Employers have quickly realized that their facility will experience an explosion if they fail to control a dust hazard.
The move by OSHA to remove the standard doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away. To clarify this situation it’s like the municipal council in your area decides to do away with stop signs, this doesn’t mean that there will be no more accident; accidents will occur if people don’t stop.