Combustible dust explosions cause injuries and deaths in the workplace
In the past six years, there have been over 50 combustible dust fires or explosions in the nation, causing nearly 170 injuries and more than 30 deaths. One explosion at a sugar refinery killed 14 workers and injured over 40 people. Such explosions and fires also cause extensive damage to industrial buildings and facilities each year.
Under certain conditions, combustible materials – and materials that do not normally burn – can explode in dust form, causing serious injuries and wrongful deaths. A wide range of materials fall within this category and include the following industrial substances:
- Plant materials such as grain, tobacco, wood, paper and pulp
- Metals such as zinc, iron, aluminum, chromium and magnesium
- Foods such as those containing sugar, flour, spice or starch
- Fossil fuels
- Other items such as plastics, textiles, dyes, pesticides and pharmaceuticals
When the substances are reduced to dust form through the manufacturing process and hang in the air in specific concentrations, they create volatile circumstances that can lead to explosions. The conditions creating these deadly explosions and fires are highly controllable, meaning that companies have the capabilities to keep their workers safe. However, they are not required by law to do so.
New laws sought to create safe working environments
In an effort to create safer workplaces for industrial employees in the U.S., the federal legislature is revisiting a bill entitled the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act. The bipartisan bill will force the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish interim protections for workers that prevent combustible dusts from accumulating.
OSHA creates and enforces guidelines for working conditions and safety measures for America’s workers. Employers are obligated to provide safe working environments and safety devices for their employees. However, there are many instances of employers violating OSHA rules.
While some industries take steps to protect their employees from dust explosions, there is currently little federal regulation requiring them to do so. While OSHA has some protections in place, many claim that special interest groups and red tape are keeping the administration from enacting laws necessary for the protection of workers.
Although having new OSHA standards in place will not cure the problem, it will be a step in the right direction for people working around combustible dust particles.
Legal assistance for injured workers and surviving families
If you have suffered an injury in the workplace or elsewhere due to the negligence of an employer, business or individual, consult an experienced attorney. A lawyer knowledgeable about workers compensation claims and personal injury cases can help ensure that your rights are protected and that you obtain the compensation to which you are entitled.