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The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Geneva Wood Fuels LLC for six alleged serious violations of workplace safety standards following an August 2009 explosion at the wood pellet manufacturing plant in Strong, Maine.
OSHA's inspection found that the plant's employees were exposed to potential dust explosions and fires stemming from deficiencies in the construction, design or location of the plant's wood pellet processing system, the use of an unapproved spark-producing shop vacuum in a Class II, Division 2 location, and not training employees on specific work procedures to protect themselves from the explosive properties of wood dust.
"Combustible dust is a real and potentially deadly presence in many types of workplaces," said William Coffin, OSHA's area director for Maine. "Employers should not assume this hazard is minor or non-existent. Addressing it requires ongoing attention and effort, but proper precautions can prevent or minimize the possibility of a devastating explosion or fire."
Combustible dusts, including wood dust, are fine particles that present a potentially catastrophic explosion hazard when suspended in the air in certain conditions. Since 1980, more than 130 workers have been killed and 780 injured in combustible dust explosions in a variety of industries across the nation. OSHA is working to develop a combustible dust standard. Detailed information on combustible dust hazards, recommended safeguards and OSHA's response to the hazard is available online at http://www.osha.gov/dsg/combustibledust/index.html.
OSHA's inspection at Geneva Wood Fuels also found unapproved lifting devices, missing safety signs and missing guardrails. All told, the six serious citations are accompanied by $27,000 in proposed fines. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.
Geneva Wood Fuels has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.