OSHA Revises the Combustible Dust NEPApr 24, 2023
At the end of January, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced revisions to its Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP). The new directives to regional administrators outlined several significant changes, including adding several industries which, according to OSHA, have a higher likelihood of having combustible dust hazards.
OSHA claims that enforcement history and combustible dust incident reports drove the Administration to make these changes. According to OSHA’s report data, between 2016 and 2018, industries involved in processing wood and lumber products, agriculture, and food production comprised most — an average of 70 percent — of the combustible dust fires and explosions.
What is Combustible Dust?
According to OSHA’s combustible dust overview, any combustible material can burn rapidly when in dust form. It can become explosive when suspended in the air, in suitable concentrations, and under certain conditions. Even materials that do not burn in large pieces — such as aluminum and iron — can become explosive under certain conditions.
Combustible dust hazards encompass a wide array of materials, industries, and processes. Materials that may form combustible dust include but are not limited to, wood, coals, plastics biosolids, candy, sugar, spice, starch, flour, grain, fertilizer, tobacco, paper, soap, rubber, drugs, dried blood, dyes, certain textiles, and some metals — particularly aluminum and magnesium.
How Does OSHA Regulate Combustible Dust?
OSHA proposed a combustible dust standard in 2009 but never finalized it. Instead, OSHA has used an array of existing standards — and the NEP created in 2015 — to police target industries and penalize offending employers.
In most instances, when a facility has accumulated combustible dust that is not adequately managed by a dust control system or containers, OSHA will use its housekeeping standards (29 CFR 1910.22 or 29 CFR 1910.176(c) to cite the employer. OSHA may also issue citations under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, section 5(a)(1).
Grain-handling facilities are governed by 29 CFR 1910.272, which applies to “grain elevators, feed mills, flour mills, rice mills, dust pelletizing plants, dry corn mills, soybean flaking operations, and the dry grinding operations of soy cake.” Also, the revised combustible dust NEP may also target worksites covered by the Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. The new directive stipulates that the NEP applies to facilities generating combustible dust that are covered under the current PSM standard — 29, CFR 1920.119 — “except for PSM-covered explosives and pyrotechnic facilities.” The manufacturing of explosives and pyrotechnics is regulated by OSHA standards 29 CFR 1910.109(k)(2) and (k)(3).
To determine whether OSHA recognizes a combustible dust hazard — and if feasible abatement tools exist — the agency recommends that area administrators consult the appropriate National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.
In the trade release published on January 27, 2023, OSHA said that the revised NEP would target six additional industries that were not included in the original program. Target industries, identified by North American Industry Classification System codes, are listed in Appendix B of the revised NEP. New targets include:
311812 – Commercial Bakeries
325910 – Printing Ink Manufacturing
321912 – Cut Stock, Resawing Lumber, and Planing
316110 – Leather and Hide Tanning and Finishing
321214 – Truss Manufacturing
424510 – Grain and Field Bean Merchant Wholesalers
Several industries previously targeted in the NEP have been removed in this revision because they were found to have a lower likelihood of combustible dust hazards.
22112 – Fossil Fuel Electric Power Generation
311821 – Cookie and Cracker Manufacturing
325810 – Pharmaceutical Preparation Manufacturing
326121 – Unlaminated Plastic Profile Shape Manufacturing
335932 – Noncurrent Carrying Wiring Device Manufacturing
337920 – Blind and Shade Manufacturing
A total of 86 industry groups are subject to planned OSHA inspections under the revised NEP.
If OSHA comes calling in the coming months, employers can expect the compliance officer to request any documentation related to combustible dust hazards — any history of fires or explosions, safety data sheets, hazard analysis records — and look for any accumulations of combustible dust. OSHA may also want to collect samples.
If you have any questions about your possible exposure under the revised NEP, or if you have received a citation for any reason, don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance.
About the Author: James Laboe