Over the last 16 months, compliance officers from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have made 37 visits to Florida companies where employees may be exposed to potential combustible dust hazards.

The result has been 157 citations for workplace safety and health violations, with 76 percent categorized as willful, serious, repeat or failure to abate.

The visits are part of the agency's ongoing National Emphasis Program (NEP) to reduce workers' exposure to combustible dust hazards. Nationally, 3,662 violations have been identified during 813 inspections. Housekeeping, hazard communication, personal protective equipment, electrical and general duty clause violations are cited most frequently as a result of these inspections.

"Any company that has combustible dust, or thinks that it may have combustible dust, needs to intensify housekeeping, review hot work processes, evaluate electrical equipment for possible Class II locations, prohibit smoking or flames in dust laden areas, ensure that relief venting on dust collection systems releases the dust to a safe location, and develop and/or review an emergency action plan," said OSHA regional administrator Cindy Coe.

Dust fires and explosions can pose significant dangers in the workplace and can occur when five different factors are present. The five factors are oxygen, an ignition source (heat, an electrical spark or a spark from metal machinery), fuel (dust), dispersion of the dust and confinement of the dust. These five factors are referred to as the "Dust Explosion Pentagon." If any one of these factors is removed or is missing, an explosion cannot occur.

Industries affected by the emphasis program include: agriculture, chemical, textile, forest products, furniture products, wastewater treatment, metal processing, paper processing, pharmaceutical and metal, paper and plastic recycling.