Deadly Georgia Dust Explosion Prompts Congress to Tighten Workplace Regulations

House Democrats are pushing for new standards to protect workers from combustible dust explosions and fires after 13 people were killed in a Georgia sugar plant blast in February.

The Democratic-controlled House was expected to pass a bill Wednesday requiring new safety standards for workplaces in danger of having large levels of dust that can become fuel for fires and explosions.

A Feb. 7 explosion at an Imperial Sugar Co. refinery outside Savannah killed 13 people and has been blamed on dust that ignited. The disaster prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to inspect hundreds of plants where combustible dust is a workplace hazard.

The legislation would require OSHA to come up with temporary safety standards within 90 days and final safety standards 18 months after the legislation is signed into law.

OSHA already has the power to do this; It put combustible dust standards in place for the grain industry after a series of explosions in the 1980s. But OSHA has declined to act on a 2006 recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to enact similar standards for other industries.

In a 2006 study, the board identified 281 industrial dust fires and explosions between 1980 and 2005 that caused 119 deaths and more than 718 injuries.

"We owe it to the families of the workers who have needlessly lost their lives to pass this legislation," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

But the White House on Tuesday threatened to veto the bill if it makes it out of Congress. "The administration has serious concerns with the expedited and one-size-fits-all regulatory approach required by the bill," the administration said in a statement.


The bill number is H.R. 5522.


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APTV 04-30-08 0316EDT