Georgia Insurance Commissioner Tightens Rules on Industrial Dust

March 10, 2008

Industries that produce flammable dust will have to follow new safety rules imposed by Georgia’s top fire official in the wake of a deadly explosion and fire at a sugar refinery.

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine said the companies will have to draw up emergency plans, give employees evacuation training and make regular reports to the state under the regulations issued Friday. They will also have to give new attention to their dust exhaust equipment.

“We’ve tightened and strengthened the rules on the ventilation system of sucking the particles … out of the facility,” Oxendine said.

The new rules go into effect immediately and remain in effect for six months. Oxendine says his office will take steps in the meantime to make the new rules permanent.

They come in response to a Feb. 7 explosion and fire at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., where 12 workers were killed and dozens more injured.

The head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced earlier this week that federal inspections will be carried out at hundreds of plants where combustible dust is a workplace hazard. Like Oxendine’s announcement, the OSHA decision came in response to the Port Wentworth disaster.

Oxendine said he was acting independently of OSHA because, “We felt like we could not rely on OSHA.”

Combustible dust standards were put in effect for the grain industry after a series of explosion in the 1980s, but OSHA declined to act on a 2006 recommendation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that similar standards be set up for other industries. Oxendine said the Chemical Safety Board’s standards are included in Georgia’s new regulations.

He said the emergency rule “applies to every industrial facility in the state of Georgia that produces combustible dust.” Asked for examples, Oxendine said they could include chemical facilities, food processing businesses and tire plants. He said they potentially number in the thousands, and added that his office will get in touch with the industries to verify if they come under the regulation.

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