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The dangers of combustible dust in the workplace

For West Virginia employees who work in the manufacturing industry, combustible dust is a serious hazard that many do not take the necessary precautions for. Because combustible dust can be so hazardous and can result in severe incidents, there are certain things that both employees and employers should know.

First, employees and employers should note that, while usually only large combustible dust fires are the ones that make the news, combustible dust explosions are a common occurrence. According to the Combustible Dust Policy Institute, there were more than 500 combustible dust explosions in 2011 alone. More importantly, all combustible dust incidents are completely preventable, as dust only becomes an explosion and fire risk when it accumulates. Employers are also required to have the dust tested even if they have never experienced a fire or an explosion.

Employers should note that, even though there is no OSHA standard regarding combustible dust in place yet, they can still be cited for violations. OSHA has fined several companies for failing to protect their workers against the hazards associated with combustible dust. Further, the equipment used in environments where combustible dust is present must also meet certain requirements, meaning the equipment must be tested in one of the testing laboratories that was recognized by OSHA.

When the conditions are just right, combustible dust can explode or cause a fire. If employees are present, they are at risk for suffering serious burns and other injuries that could have an impact on their ability to return to work. Employers are responsible for providing workers' compensation insurance, which should cover all of the employee's medical costs and potentially a portion of their wages, depending on the severity of the injuries. In the event an employee's workers' compensation claim is denied, an attorney could appeal the decision.

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Stephen P. New, Attorney at Law
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