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Keeping workplaces safe from combustible dust

Some Louisiana employees might work in environments where combustible dust is a hazard. However, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, accidents that result from the presence of combustible dust are preventable. The accumulation of dust is what creates the risk of fire. The recommendation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is that dust should not cover more than 5 percent of a floor in a facility and that it should be no thicker than 1/32 of an inch.

Despite this recommendation, OSHA has not yet issued a standard for combustible dust. However, a company can still be fined for violations. There is a Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program in place that allows the agency to issue fines for 18 violations. The National Fire Prevention Association, on which OSHA bases its fire prevention best practices, released a standard for dealing with combustible dust in 2016. This is a good guide for companies to follow to avoid a fine. Facilities that have never had a problem with combustible dust are still required to get testing.

In April, OSHA fined a plastics recycler $5,000 in penalties related to combustible dust. A Pennsylvania mill was fined almost $200,000 after OSHA found that it had a number of violations including a willful lack of protection for workers from combustible dust.

Most employees who are injured in a workplace accident, whether it involves combustible dust or some other hazard, are eligible for workers' compensation. In some cases, an employer might try to block an employee's access to workers' compensation or retaliate against the worker. Injured workers may want to talk to an attorney about their rights to compensation and for assistance in filling out paperwork.

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