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Hoeganaes serves as potent reminder

June 7, 2011

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For the third time in about four months, a combustible dust-related incident at the same Tennessee facility has led to tragedy.

Two people died in a May 27 hydrogen gas leak explosion at the Hoeganaes Corp. plant in Gallatin, TN, according to the Chemical Safety Board. Combustible iron dust, according to CSB, was “involved” in the aftermath of the blast.

“Some witnesses saw a flash of light; some heard a muffled boom and felt the building shaking from the explosion,” CSB investigator Johnnie Banks said at a June 3 press conference (.pdf file). “The building filled with dust and the lights went out. Witnesses saw burning dust raining down from above.”

Every time I read accounts of combustible dust explosions, I have to remind myself that they do not occur on some Hollywood film lot, but in someone’s workplace. These events are deadly, devastating and far too common. If nothing else, the three Hoeganaes combustible dust incidents serve as a reminder of that.

Yet we still wait for this “insidious workplace hazard” – as CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso called it in the press conference – to be properly regulated. OSHA is working on a standard, and we know standards by and large effectively reduce injuries and illnesses, but the process takes too long.

Moure-Eraso called on Hoeganaes to make the necessary improvements to its worksite, including initiating recommended practices from the National Fire Protection Association. Other facilities with combustible dust risks would be wise to do the same – before they experience a similar tragedy.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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