By Jess McCluer, Vice President of Safety and Regulatory Affairs
Recently, there have been questions raised within the grain, feed and processing industry on whether a “dust hazard analysis” is required for either new or existing facilities. This article is intended to clarify this matter.
At issue is the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 652: Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust, 2016 edition, which was created to promote and define hazard analysis, awareness, management and mitigation of hazards associated with combustible dust within facilities. The standard also contains a new term: dust hazard analysis (DHA). The standard requires a facility processing or handling combustible dust to perform a DHA for each operation that handles such dust. The standard allows three years to complete this DHA.
Many Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations regarding combustible dust hazards list the lack of a hazard analysis at the top of the citation and – under OSHA’s general duty clause – often recommend using NFPA standards as a “feasible and acceptable abatement method” to address combustible dust hazards.
As a result, manufacturers of explosion prevention products, safety and health consultants, engineering firms and insurance company representatives have been emphasizing to their customers that they are required to comply with the DHA requirements in NFPA 652.
However, that is not necessarily the case. NFPA is a non-profit organization that has developed more than 300 so-called consensus codes and standards on fire, electrical and related hazards for various industry sectors. Most NFPA standards are voluntary and apply only to facilities if “Authorities Having Jurisdiction” (AHJ), i.e. fire marshals, rely on them for enforcement by local authorities. However,OSHA has incorporated several of these NFPA standards by reference, into the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which gives them the same legal authority as the Act itself even though the standards are not promulgated through formal rulemaking by OSHA. Specifically, NFPA standards are not a requirement of the OSHA grain handling facilities standard 29 CFR 1910.272. Further, OSHA does not require any facility either covered or not covered by 1910.272 to complete a DHA.
A different NFPA consensus standard – NFPA 61, Standard for the Prevention of Fires and Dust Explosions in Agricultural and Food Processing Facilities – is the primary voluntary standard applied to the grain handling industry. There has been a great effort by industry members to have NFPA develop a practical and workable NFPA 61 standard through their involvement in the NFPA committee responsible for developing it. Research on proper and effective ways to vent bucket elevators is one example; others include the role of static electricity and metal sparks in dust explosions and the need for proper selection, use and maintenance of bearings. Basic facility design elements, such as placing legs outside of facilities and use of safety monitoring devices also have been shared through industry participation in NFPA committees and NFPA 61 development. Several representatives from NGFA member companies and NGFA staff participate on the committee.
By contrast, the NFPA 652 standard generally is more generic and not specific to the grain, feed and processing industry’s needs. It also is more theoretical and difficult to apply. For grain handling facilities to comply with NFPA 652, they would need to utilize a specialist with extensive knowledge about ways to design and construct the explosion venting, isolation, mitigation and prevention systems required for all parts of the facility. For small businesses within the grain handling industry (e.g. country elevators with limited resources), the economic impacts of hiring a specialist to do so could be burdensome financially. Thus, while the NFPA 652 standard may contain certain concepts and principles that could be applied to grain facilities, they are not all practical nor applicable from an operational and economic standpoint, especially for small business. Further, NFPA 652 specifically states it does not apply to facilities covered by NFPA 61.
Currently, the NFPA 61 consensus standard is undergoing revision and a DHA section is being included in the standard with a checklist specifically designed for agricultural facilities. The revised version of the standard is expected to be published in 2020. Therefore, if the AHJ requires facilities to comply with NFPA 61, then they would be obligated to perform a DHA.
In some cases, the insurance provider may require that their clients complete a DHA as a condition for receiving coverage. This is a requirement imposed on its customer facilities by the insurance carrier — not OSHA nor NFPA. Therefore, under these circumstances, it is the individual company’s decision to determine if they want to proceed with DHA. If neither the AHJ with jurisdiction over the facility nor the facility’s insurance company requests that it perform a DHA at the facility, then it is not required.
For more information on this matter, contact NGFA Vice President of Safety and Regulatory Affairs Jess McCluer at email@example.com, or at 202-289-0873.
Disclaimer: The NGFA prepared this memo to assist grain handling, processing and feed and feed ingredient manufacturing and distribution facilities in complying with regulatory requirements surrounding combustible dust. NGFA makes no warranties, expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, application or use of the information contained in this article. Further, nothing contained herein is intended as legal advice. Competent legal, regulatory and technical advisers should be consulted as appropriate.