Initial surface work has been completed in what will be the tallest dam raise in the United States. Fraco Products Ltd. and American Hydro are raising the height of the San Vicente Dam, which is owned and operated by the City of San Diego, to 337 feet from 220 feet. The $568 million project is expected to be completed in 2012. Photo: Fraco Products Ltd.

As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prepares to develop a federal standard regulating combustible dust, it is taking a closer look at the solid waste industry.

OSHA is considering adopting a National Fire Protection Association (NF-PA) combustible dust standard that outlines safety practices for industries.

NFPA 654 (Standard for the Prevention of Fire and Dust Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing, and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids) — for which compliance is voluntary — requires that all surfaces must have less than 1/32 inch dust (the thickness of a dime) on no more than 5% of a room's surface. It is currently being revised by the NFPA; a Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board study recommended that OSHA incorporate it as a federal regulation.

In 2006 the board released its Combustible Dust Hazard Study, which found that between 1980 and 2005, 281 combustible dust incidents killed 119 workers and injured 718. Since then, 16 additional deaths and 84 injuries occurred between 2006 and 2008.

But the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) is concerned that OSHA has included the solid waste industry as a target for regulation despite its statements in the past that there is no record of a combustible dust explosion at a U.S. solid waste facility, including transfer stations, materials recovery facilities, and landfills.

“We have a lot of issues we deal with, but dust becoming explosive is not one of them,” says David Biderman, safety director and general counsel at the NSWMA. “There's not a single recorded case of an incident at a solid waste or recycling facility in the government's report on combustible dust.”

Local governments in about half the states are not required to comply with OSHA regulations.

Meanwhile, Congress also is addressing safety issues related to dust in the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act. It would require industries to follow a similar standard.