What regulations apply to combustible dusts?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces standards for workplace safety, and the agency has developed a list of standards that apply to dust explosions. Some of these standards apply to workplace practices, such as materials handling, while others address typical safety issues, such as emergency exits. It is a manufacturer’s responsibility to comply with these standards and to reduce the risks of dust explosions. To meet these OSHA requirements, manufacturers must address their air quality. Most likely this will mean exhausting or filtering their air in order to reduce dust concentrations.

Another set of standards for manufacturers to look to for guidance is the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) “Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust.” While these standards are not federal regulations and carry no weight of law, they represent the leading science on the risks and mitigation measures. If OSHA changes its regulations on these matters, the agency will likely look to the NFPA standards for guidance.

Manufacturers should indeed be aware of possible changes in OSHA regulations in the future. In 2009, OSHA began the process to develop a more comprehensive standard to regulate combustible dust. The regulatory process began with issuing an “advance notice of proposed rulemaking” and holding a series of stakeholder meetings. One of the next steps was to convene a panel required by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA). The process will likely take a while, as is usually the case, but the eventual change could apply to a wide swath of manufacturers and could compel them to make serious changes to their air quality.

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