February 20th marked the ninth anniversary of a devastating combustible dust explosion at a CTA Acoustics facility in Corbin, Kentucky, a fiberglass insulation manufacturer for the automotive industry. The explosion killed seven workers and injured another 37. The incident also caused extensive damage to the production area of the facility, nearby homes and an elementary school was evacuated, and 12-miles of Interstate 75 was shut down. In addition, Ford Motor Company, CTA’s largest client at the time, suspended operations at four of their assembly plants, as CTA provided insulation for those facilities.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigation found the combustible dust explosion was a result of resin dust accumulation in the production area and ignited by a fire in a malfunctioning oven. Other factors that influenced this tragic explosion include the following:

  • Management at CTA did not implement effective measures in regards to combustible dust explosion prevention
  • Cleaning and maintenance procedures at the facility did not prevent the accumulation of combustible dust on elevated flat surfaces
  • The building design did not effectively address fire and explosion hazards that were associated with combustible dust

In a recent article, Rafael Moure Eraso, Chairperson of the US Chemical Safety Board, states:

As a result of the tragedy in Corbin, the CSB issued a number of recommendations to the company, the state of Kentucky, trade associations and others. I am pleased to report the board found the responses to all of those recommendations to be positive and thus the cases were closed.

But dust explosions continued to occur elsewhere, leading the CSB in 2006 to recommend that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should issue a federal regulatory combustible dust standard for general industry, to end these preventable tragedies.

Yet, nine years after the CTA catastrophe, and more than five years after our recommendation to OSHA, there is still no comprehensive OSHA standard to prevent these accidents.

Mr. Moure Eraso expresses that without OSHA developing standards to address the hazards of combustible dust, workers will continue to be at risk for future explosions. He declares, “It’s time for OSHA to move on a comprehensive regulation to adequately address combustible dust hazards.”

Combustible dust hazards are prevalent across a myriad of industries, including food processing, metal processing, wood products, chemical manufacturing, rubber and plastics plants, and coal-fire power plants. Look out for a future Harrington Group blog post that explores how an OSHA comprehensive standard could impact combustible dust incidents in these and other industries.