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Dust fire fourth since 2003 at plant

By Marcia Moore

The Daily Item


KREAMER — Tuesday's fiery explosion in a Wood-Mode Inc. sawdust silo is the fourth in seven years, a record that jibes with national research suggesting that combustible dust is a serious industrial hazard.

According to an October 2009 report issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there have been nearly 280 dust fires and explosions at industrial sites across the nation over the past 25 years. Those accidents have caused 130 fatalities and about 780 injuries.

None of the recent fires at Wood-Mode has resulted in injuries or deaths.

In January 2007, the plant was evacuated when an explosion occurred on a roof of one of the buildings when a spark ignited in blower system that collects sawdust.

Two months earlier, in November 2006, smoke was detected in a sawdust silo and prompted the plant to be closed for a day.

In June 2003, fire broke out in a sawdust mill and agaiN caused a temporary closing of the plant.

Kenneth Walter, the Wood-Mode employee whose vehicle was crushed Tuesday by a lid that was blown off a silo, said he and other plant workers had just been talking about those past incidents on Monday.

"We were saying that it had been a while since there was a fire," he said, shaking his head.

Mark Stelmack, area director of the Wilkes-Barre office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said he was informed of the Wood-Mode fire by the media and would investigate.

Companies are not required to report an incident unless a fatality occurs or three or more people are hospitalized as a result, Stelmack said.

While OSHA has visited Wood-Mode, Stelmack said he's not aware of any accident investigations at the facility. An online database of OSHA records shows only two recent inspections at Wood-Mode.

There are no specific standards on combustible dust hazards, but he said OSHA does have certain requirements for employee protection.

OSHA has scheduled its latest informal stakeholder meetings to continue soliciting comments and suggestions for protecting workers from combustible dust hazards in the workplace. Since 1980, more than 130 workers have been killed and more than 780 injured in combustible dust explosions.

OSHA is holding a public hearing intended to develop a plan to better manage the dangers posed by industrial combustible dust later this month in Chicago. It is the third in a series of meetings prompted a Feb. 7, 2008, catastrophic explosion at the Imperial Sugar Co. plan in Port Wentworth, Ga., that killed 14 workers and led to $8.8 million in penalties. Combustible dusts are solids ground into fine particles, fibers, chips, chunks or flakes that can cause a fire or explosion when suspended in air under certain conditions. Types of dusts include metal (aluminum and magnesium), wood, plastic or rubber, coal, flour, sugar and paper, among others.

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