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Workers exposed to ongoing risk of dust explosions

Just over nine years ago, a fiberglass insulation plant exploded due to an accumulation of resin dust throughout the plant. The dreadful explosion claimed the lives of seven people and injured several others. An investigation revealed that a defective furnace ignited the dust. Since that time, no regulations have been installed to protect North Carolina workers against the threat of from dust explosions.

After the accident that led to death and serious injury, the investigation determined that the company knew that the dust posed a threat, but did not modify their practices or facility for safety. These revelations triggered the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an organization involved in the inquiry, to make recommendations for companies to mitigate the danger of dust at manufacturing sites. However, there are no regulations established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce these safety guidelines.

Since the massive 2003 explosion, there have been multiple dust explosions throughout the country, including one sugar refinery incident that resulted in 14 casualties. These accidents may have been prevented if action was taken to follow the recommendations of the Chemical Safety Board. Until the safety measures are taken seriously, plant workers may be at risk every day they go to work.

The most disconcerting aspect of these cases is that a threat has been identified, but unified action has not been taken. If there are no federal regulations in place, it becomes much harder to make sure employers are doing their part to control explosive dust in their facilities.

This problem is literally a ticking time bomb. At any moment, a manufacturing center could erupt into flames, leading to multiple worker injuries or deaths. Workers and their families should benefit from the fruits of labor, rather than having to agonize over the threat of dust explosions.

Source: The Lexington Herald-Leader, "Nine years after Corbin explosion, still no dust regulations," Rafael Moure-Eraso, Feb. 19, 2012

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