OSHA Eyes Combustible Dust Exposures

This year many wood product companies have requested assistance from MEMIC to help identify and control wood dust exposures and to develop procedures to comply with OSHA’s wood dust regulations.

According to a 2006 report issued by the Chemical Safety Board, there were 280 combustible dust fires recorded over a period of 25 years, resulting in 119 fatalities and 700 injuries. Unfortunately, it took a massive explosion at a Georgia sugar refinery in February 2008 that killed 14 and injured dozens of others to put combustible dust safety squarely on OSHA’s front burner.

Concentrations of small dust particles in the air can form a mixture that will explode if ignited. This type of situation may occur in dust collection equipment and overheated motors or sparks can start wood dust fires.

To assist you with OSHA’s requirements for identifying and controlling exposures to combustible dust please review this document. OSHA also offers an e-tool that explains how to control wood dust exposures generated by commonly used woodworking equipment.

In addition, OSHA has developed a document titled Safety and Health Topics for Wood Dust that explains the OSHA related standards, how to recognize wood dust exposures, how to evaluate combustible dust concentrations, and how to control exposure.

An OSHA guideline document warns against overexposure to wood dust. Acute exposures to wood dust include eye and skin irritation, asthma, erythema (skin rash), blistering, erosion and secondary infections of the skin, redness, scaling, itching, and vesicular dermatitis. Chronic exposures to wood dusts can result in dermatitis reactions, asthma, pneumonitis, and coughing, wheezing, fever and the other signs and symptoms associated with chronic bronchitis. Chronic exposure may also result in nasal cancer.

Lastly, OSHA has a National Emphasis Program for Combustible Dust CPL 03-00-008 that was published March 11, 2008. And, in October 2009, OSHA published a status report on the results of the national emphasis program for combustible dust.