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OSHA regulates combustible dust


Earlier this month, a New Jersey lumber company was cited by OSHA for exposing employees to combustible dust hazards. Inspectors determined that the company was failing to properly control the dust that resulted from wood processing.

The company now faces $106,432 in proposed penalties.


Which dusts are combustible?


Combustible dust hazards are widespread among a variety of industries. Many facilities may not even realize their dust is a health and safety hazard.

However, a wide range of materials can be explosive when in dust form. This can include food, grain, tobacco, plastics, wood, paper, pulp, rubber, pesticides, coal, and metals.

These combustible materials can burn rapidly as dust suspended in air under the right conditions. The force of an explosion such as this can cause mass destruction.


Dangers of combustible dust in the workplace


According to, only recently did most EHS professionals start seeing dust primarily as a housekeeping or nuisance issue.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2008, when 14 workers were killed, and another 36 were injured, in a sugar dust explosion in Georgia that OSHA and the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) began to delver deeper into dust.

The CSB identified that 119 workers had died between 1980 and 2005 in 281 combustible dust incidents. These incidents also injured 718 workers and extensively damaged industrial facilities.


Long-term effects of combustible dust


If combustible dust causes explosions, just imagine how it can affect your lungs.

In the case of a company like the one OSHA recently fined that processes wood, there are several health issues that could arise.

Wood dust may cause anything from dermatitis and inflammation to decreased lung capacity and occupational asthma. And, dusts from coal can cause chronic lung disease, or even cancer.


How to keep your workplace safe and compliant


While there are numerous standards and regulations in place to curb the risk of combustible explosions, some businesses still fail to comply.

Here are 4 ways improve your work site, if you work with combustible dust:


Awareness – Educate your company on what combustible dust is. Many people don’t realize that it can really be anything from flour to metals to additives in manufacturing.


Change the status quo – Just because something has always been done a certain way on your job site, doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen. The key to maintaining a safe and healthy work site is constant checks and balances — and always staying on top of education.


Cleaning is important – OSHA requires that there should be no more than 1/32nd of an inch of dust over more than 5 percent of a flat service in the facility. That’s less depth than a paper clip. In many cases, you can just look at the bottom of your shoes and see that there is too much dust.

If piles start forming or you can smell or taste dust in the air — it’s probably an issue.


Test your respirators! – If your workers wear respirators, then it’s required that they’re periodically fit tested (Learn About Mobile Fit Testing HERE). If you’re working with dusts of any kind, especially of the combustible variety, then it’s doubly as important to sure that they’re working correctly.


Also, check out OSHA’s Hazard Communication Guidance PDF for Combustible Dusts HERE.




Avoid fines and hazards by making sure your workplace is compliant with Worksite Medical, a medical surveillance service that can come directly to you.

We offer on-site medical testing that can make sure your employees are healthy. Our services include respirator fit testing, DOT medical exams, crystalline silica testing, and more. Give us a call at 1-844-622-8633, or visit us online to schedule your appointment today.

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