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National Emphasis Program (NEP)

In March 2008, OSHA reissued its National Emphasis Program (NEP) for combustible dust, which created policies and procedures for inspecting workplaces that create or handle combustible dusts. The stated purpose of the NEP was for OSHA to “increase its enforcement activities and to focus on specific industry groups that have experienced either frequent combustible dust incidents or combustible dust incidents with catastrophic consequences.”

The range of industries covered in the NEP is very broad, including: agriculture, chemicals, food products, textiles, forest and furniture products, wastewater treatment, metal processing, tire and rubber manufacturing plants, paper products, pharmaceuticals, recycling operations (metal, paper, and plastic), and coal dust in coal handling/processing facilities.

The NEP is already in effect. It establishes specific inspection protocols for OSHA inspectors to ensure that inspections are thorough and uniform. Inspectors are specifically looking for any “red flags,” such as a history of fires, any MSDS information indicating combustibility of dust, and dangerous dust accumulations at the facility. Inspectors are also collecting and testing dust samples from potential danger areas at the facility (high spaces, equipment/floors, interior of dust collectors, ductwork, etc.). Fines totaling in the millions of dollars have already been issued by OSHA, with nearly 4,000 violations issued during over 800 inspections in the first year of the NEP’s enforcement. Contact Conversion Technology, Inc. if you would like an estimate to conduct an OSHA NEP compliance assessment.

Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR):

OSHA took a major step towards the creation of a combustible dust regulatory standard in October 2009 with the issuance of an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR). This ANPR announced that OSHA is developing a standard that will address the fire and deflagration hazards of combustible dust.

While some existing OSHA standards, as well as the NEP, deal with the hazards of combustible dust, none of them do so in an in-depth or comprehensive manner. OSHA has concluded that “the existing regulatory regime is fragmented and incomplete” and “existing OSHA standards do not regulate important elements of combustible dust hazards.”

The ANPR identified a number of NAICS codes as susceptible to combustible dust hazards, placing 426,000 facilities and 16 million workers in the affected category. The attached chart shows the potentially far reaching effects of the OSHA standard.

OSHA held stakeholder meetings in December 2009, February 2010, and April 2010, and a virtual stakeholder meeting June 2010 seeking comments and information for the standard. The next required step is to convene a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) panel. This panel has been delayed numerous times since 2011, causing OSHA to downgrade the standard from “Pre-Rule stage” to “Long-term action” in November 2014. However, in May 2015, OSHA upgraded the standard back to “Pre-Rule stage” with a proposed SBREFA panel date of February 2016.

Current State Regulations

Several states have responded with regulations regarding combustible dusts. The California division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, has enacted rules governing the control of ignition sources, including static electricity, in areas that pose a combustible dust hazard. The rules also regulate cleaning practices and require explosion protection for all pieces of equipment that handle combustible dusts. The NFPA standards that govern the processing and production of combustible metals are officially adopted into the Cal/OSHA regulations as well.

In 2010, Georgia also enacted regulations concerning combustible dusts as well. Several NFPA standards have been officially adopted. In addition, the regulation has specific employee training requirements as well as monthly hazard notification. There are specific requirements for written fire protection and emergency action plans that include the formation of an emergency response team that oversees quarterly emergency drills and annual evacuation drills.

International Combustible Dust Standards – ATEX (Europe)

Combustible dust hazards and regulations are not unique to the United States. Internationally, industries and regulatory agencies have identified the dangers associated with combustible dusts as warranting significant attention. ATEX is one such expression of international concern with combustible dust. An abbreviation for “Atmosphère Explosibles,” ATEX is a set of directives in the European Union designed to eliminate hazards in potentially explosive environments. ATEX is very similar to the purposes of and the measures recommended in the NFPA standards in the United States.

Two separate directives comprise the requirements of ATEX for companies. The first (ATEX 137 or the ATEX Workplace Directive) provides standards for improving the health and safety protection of workers at risk in explosive atmospheres. The second (ATEX 95 or the ATEX Equipment Directive) concerns equipment and protective systems intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres.

All electrical and mechanical equipment that is used in potentially explosive environments must demonstrate ATEX certification. All workers in these environments must be protected as well. As of July 2003, products without ATEX certification are considered illegal in the European marketplace. ATEX minimizes the risk of explosion in hazardous areas by requiring manufacturers to consider every possible ignition source, every possibly hazardous environment in which the product could operate, and the technical abilities of people using process equipment.

NFPA Standard Summaries

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued a number of standards that address the hazards of combustible dust. None of these standards is comprehensive, as each applies to a specific type of industry, and some do not focus solely on dust. Portions of these standards, however, are being used by OSHA as a basis in the current development of the combustible dust standard. For further information on how these standards may apply to your facility, or to request an NFPA compliance review, feel free to contact the engineers at Conversion Technology, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in combustible dust regulations, assessments, and response.

REGULATORY ALERT: NFPA 652 to be Issued - Click for more information.

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