The Costly Connection between Dust and Forklifts

Jan. 9, 2013
Dust is combustible in the right setting. So is ignorance that industrial trucks can set it off.

Recently I introduced you to Jason Watson, a service technician at Vesco Toyotalift in Hickory, N.C. I also told you about his service as a Marine and his feeling that working on the hydraulics and pneumatics associated with M-1 tanks prepared him for his job working on civilian forklifts. Because preventive maintenance and scheduling were priorities in the Marines, he brought those skills to his job as well.

I felt this was such an inspiring lesson for all industries that I posted a link to this story on all the LinkedIn discussion groups in which I participate, including one on combustible dust. One fellow member didn’t see the relevance.

“I understand that well maintained equipment is also safe equipment but I would personally think that this kind of general broader comment dilutes focus groups and … [becomes part of] the general noise we find on the internet.”

At first I thought maybe he’s right. Personally, I hate getting spammed by hundreds of e-mail messages every day, addressing topics that have no relevance to me or my readers. Then John Astad came to my defense. He’s Process Safety Analyst with the Combustible Dust Policy Institute in Houston, Tex., and leader of this discussion group. He posted the following response to our fellow group member’s comment:

“Tom thanks for sharing with the group the importance of proactive maintenance and inspection of powered industrial trucks (PITs). In addition to this essential operational aspect of PIT's it is vital that stakeholders use forklifts properly classified for potentially explosive atmospheres. Currently OSHA is citing facilities operating forklifts not rated for operation in hazardous areas where combustible dust is present. It’s a very costly citation. Additionally, all the NFPA combustible dust standards emphasize the importance of maintenance and inspection so as to minimize the probability of operating equipment providing combustible dust ignition sources.”

I thanked John for his kind support of MH&L’s mission to remind all industrial audiences never to take workplace safety for granted, especially when it comes to forklifts—an invaluable tool found in all kinds of industrial environments, clean and dusty. And he’s correct, by the way, OSHA is refocusing attention on combustible dust—and many other elements that industries tend to take for granted.

At the end of 2012 the Obama Administration released its Fall 2012 Regulatory Agenda, which includes a new comprehensive Combustible Dust Standard which will go before a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) review panel later this year.

In the meantime, OSHA inspectors are out citing workplaces for violating both dust and forklift-related safety procedures. Most recently OSHA’s Austin Area Office came down on Carmen Creative Cabinets LLC for 32 serious safety and health violations, including failing to provide adequate housekeeping and exhaust systems for combustible dust accumulations and failure to train and certify forklift operators. There is a connection here, and this company is paying the price for not seeing it—to the tune of $65,000.

Ignorance may not be a crime, but willful ignorance is another story. Hope your company doesn’t provide that story’s setting for OSHA’s next inspection.