Posts Tagged ‘dust explosion’

US Department of Labor's OSHA cites Alabama Farmers Cooperative for combustible dust and other hazards

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Region 4 News Release: 12-544-ATL (130)

April 10, 2012
Contact: Michael Wald  
Phone: 404-562-2078 

Michael D’Aquino

US Department of Labor’s OSHA cites Alabama Farmers Cooperative for combustible dust and other hazards; proposes nearly $192,000 in fines

DECATUR, Ala. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Alabama Farmers Cooperative Inc. with 17 safety and health violations for exposing workers at its Decatur facility to combustible dust and other hazards. Proposed penalties total $191,700 following an October inspection initiated based on a complaint.

Two willful safety violations, with penalties of $126,000, include failing to establish a housekeeping program to reduce the accumulation of, and use approved electrical equipment in the presence of, combustible dust. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Thirteen serious safety and health violations, with penalties of $65,700, include failing to provide working interlocks on the personnel elevator to prevent the door from opening when the elevator was not present, cover the grain chute opening, provide guardrails on open-sided floors and platforms to prevent fall hazards, provide handrails on stairways, establish an audiometric testing program and guard various pieces of equipment. Additionally, workers were exposed to nuisance dust 1.6 times higher than the permissible exposure limit. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Two other-than-serious health violations with no monetary penalties involve failing to review and verify that OSHA 300 log entries were accurate and complete from 2008 to the present, and to provide the certified OSHA summary form from 2008 to the present. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

“Although this employer’s management is familiar with the safety issues associated with combustible dust, it still was allowed to accumulate throughout the facility, exposing workers to fire and explosion hazards,” said Roberto Sanchez, OSHA’s area director in Birmingham. “It is the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace.”

The citations can be viewed at**.

Decatur-headquartered Alabama Farmers Cooperative Inc. provides a range of agricultural supplies and services to farmers in the state. The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director in Birmingham or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency’s Birmingham Area Office at 205-731-1564.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit



Employee Confessions: Why Workers Don’t Report Combustible Dust Safety Issues

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Safety is job #1. Safety is everyone’s job. Safety, safety, safety. If you’ve got posters in your workplace with one of these slogans, you’re not alone. So if those sayings really ring true, why aren’t employees reporting combustible dust incidents at the workplace?

Small fires or mini-explosions aren’t reported many times for the same reason as other safety issues. No one got hurt, it didn’t seem like a big deal, or it doesn’t seem like the issue was important enough to take the time to do paperwork. But usually, these incidents are a precursor to something larger, and can serve as a warning sign to a potentially dangerous situation. That’s why it’s important to create a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting incidents, and where they understand the importance of reporting safety issues—even if it seems insignificant.

I recently spoke with Harry, one of the boilermakers at a large railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee, regarding some of the reasons he thinks that some employees don’t report safety issues. He says that there are many reasons, but he highlighted a few specific things that tend to keep employees quiet.

They don’t want to seem like a tattle-tale, or seem to be griping (especially if they’re trying to move up the corporate ladder). Telling the boss that something isn’t safe may make an employee feel like they’re complaining, when really, it’s just a way to keep themselves and others out of harm’s way. It’s important to make sure your team knows the difference, and that they know their OSHA Safety Rights

Sometimes they aren’t aware or educated. This, Harry points out, is the company’s fault. He says that an employer telling the worker that there is an MSDS isn’t enough, when most times they don’t give the worker time to read it and understand it. Make sure your workers have the time and resources to understand any safety information associated with their jobs, including the MSDS.

Good old fashioned peer pressure: They don’t want to admit to being afraid of something in front of peers. Sure, there are egos at stake, but the consequence is too great to not report safety issues. One way companies can handle this is with regular Toolbox Talks, where everyone is encouraged to share safety stories and issues, so no one is singled out.

Sometimes there has already been an accident but those involved can’t pass a drug test and don’t want to lose their jobs. It’s a shocking reality, but a reality nonetheless. If no one is around, there might be no way to know when these accidents occur. Be on the lookout for unreported damage to equipment, and be sure to investigate any findings.

If the company has a history of not listening or responding, the employees think reporting is useless. When your workers take the time to report an issue, it’s for the safety of themselves, the building, and everyone in it. It’s critical to acknowledge this—and act. If they’ve tried to fix a safety problem in the past with no response from decision makers, it’s unlikely they’ll continue to speak up in the future.

Harry is lucky that his company culture is one that looks at safety as a priority, not just a buzzword. “One of the safety slogans at the railroad—and there are stickers of this everywhere, and on every locomotive, is ‘there is no job so important, or service so urgent, that we cannot take the time to do it safely’.” At Hughes Environmental, we feel the same way. (We’ve even won the NADCA Outstanding Achievement Safety Award every year we’ve been in business.)

Training is an important part of worker safety, and so is proper equipment. Giving employees the resources they need to stay safe with combustible dust is the difference between a safe job and a potential catastrophe. Proper clothing, grounded equipment, including hoses and lifts, and intrinsically safe vacuums are some of the tools our technicians use to do combustible dust remediation safely.

Please make sure your employees are reporting combustible dust fires, explosions and hazards, or any other safety issues in your facility. Even if they’re small, they could be significant.

For more information on combustible dust safety, visit

Don't try this at home.

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

As we approach seasonal shut down time for many industrial plants and facilities, we’ve been getting more calls for combustible dust cleaning estimates. It’s great that companies are becoming more aware of this growing hazard, and moving forward with creating safer working environments for their employees. For some companies, especially smaller ones, it may seem like a good idea to go ahead and clean it themselves. If they can spare a worker and a shop vac for a day, it’s cheaper, and that should get it done, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong.

OSHA’s Safety and Health Information Bulletin called Combustible Dust in Industry:  Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Fire and Explosions says to clean dust residues at regular intervals, use cleaning methods that do not generate dust clouds if ignition sources are present, and only use vacuum cleaners approved for dust collection. When I hear companies say they’re going to “just blow it down ourselves,” it makes my heart jump. It’s dangerous at best, and can create a dust cloud that’s susceptible to ignition. One small spark is all it takes to create a catastrophe.

Sometimes we hear of companies that decide just to vacuum up combustible dust accumulation. They’ve got a shop vac, and they can do it in-house. Is the person doing the vacuuming wearing flame resistant clothing? Checking for no exposed steel on their shoes? Is that shop vac suitable for NEC 500 Class II hazardous atmospheres? Do they meet the NFPA 70 requirements for grounding/bonding? Is it intrinsically safe? Didn’t think so. Regular vacuums are a risk for sparking hazards, and sometimes create combustible dust clouds themselves. (Not to mention that they’re not that great at picking up the fine dust and heavier materials.)

Please don’t try to clean combustible dust accumulation hazards with compressed air or traditional vacuuming or sweeping. Enlist the help of a professional who has experience in combustible dust remediation. Chances of creating an even bigger risk of explosion during the cleaning process is too great without the right equipment and methods. This will help you avoid fines and help keep your employees safe.