Bill to Regulate Combustible Dust Exposure at Industrial Sites is Reintroduced

As predicted, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor committee, Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, have reintroduced a bill that would regulate combustible dust exposure at industrial sites. The Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act (CDEFA) (H.R. 849), introduced on Wednesday, would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue interim rules on combustible dust within 90 days, followed by final rules within 18 months. CDEFA also would direct OSHA to revise the Hazard Communication Standard to include combustible dusts.

The rules would outline measures to minimize hazards associated with combustible dust through improved housekeeping, engineering controls, worker training and a written combustible dust safety program. These rules would be based on effective voluntary standards devised by the National Fire Protection Association. The rules would further provide requirements for building design and explosion protection.

A similar bill introduced last year (H.R. 5522) cleared the House by a vote of 247-165, but never made it out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The bill was introduced in response to the February 7, 2008 Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion in Port Wentworth, Georgia, that was caused by combustible sugar dust. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that CDEFA would have increased OSHA’s enforcement workload by about five percent per year at a cost of approximately $10 million a year. If the current bill passes, it would likely have an impact on a broad spectrum of industries, the costs of which are unknown because there is likely a great variance from employer to employer how compliant they are with pre-existing standards and how up-to-date they are in the procedures and controls that are already in place.

Given the current makeup of the Senate and President Obama’s pledge to improve worker safety and strengthen OSHA enforcement, there is a greater chance this session that this bill could become law. At the moment, CDEFA has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.