The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced today it is beginning work on new rules affecting companies--including facilities working with wood--that produce large quantities of potentially combustible dust.

"OSHA will issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and convene related stakeholder meetings to evaluate possible regulatory methods, and request data and comments on issues related to combustible dust such as hazard recognition, assessment, communication, defining combustible dust and other concerns," the agency said in a statement.

The grain industry has had standards on combustible dust since the 1980s, after a series of deadly explosions, but OSHA hasn't extended such rules to other industries, the Associated Press reports. But concern about the potential of combustible dust has risen sharply in recent years, most notably after two events: a dust explosion Feb. 7, 2008, at an Imperial Sugar Co. plant in Georgia that killed 14 people, and an explosion this month at a pet food factory in Illinois that burned three workers. Since 1980, more than 130 workers have been killed and more than 780 injured in combustible dust explosions, OSHA said.

"Over the years, combustible dust explosions have caused many deaths and devastating injuries that could have been prevented," Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis. "OSHA is reinvigorating the regulatory process to ensure workers receive the protection they need while also ensuring that employers have the tools needed to make their workplaces safer."

OSHA defines combustible dusts as finely ground materials that can cause a fire or explosion while lingering in the air. It included wood in its list today of materials that can cause combustible dusts but did not say anything more. An OSHA poster lists both cellulose and cellulose pulp as having the potential for a combustible dust explosion. Last month, OSHA reissued instructions on dealing with combustible dust.

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