In March, Tammy Miser told Congress how her brother Shawn cried out, “I’m in a world of hurt,” as he begged her to take him off life support. Five years earlier Shawn Boone was lying on a floor in a plant that made aluminum wheels, his body smoldering, as the aluminum dust burned through his flesh, then his muscles and finally his internal organs.
In February, a month before Tammy spoke to the lawmakers, 13 workers died similar slow and painful deaths when a sugar refinery in Georgia exploded. Superheated sugar flowed like lava, melting steel frames as the sugar dust burned through the bodies of the workers. For the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), whose members were hand-picked by the Bush administration, all this was not enough to make them act.
On April 30 the Congress of the United States took action when the House ordered OSHA to write standards requiring companies to curb explosive workplace dust and to prescribe severe penalties for those who violate the standards. 21 Republicans joined 226 Democrats to give the bill a 247-165 vote majority.
The Congress approved the measure on recommendation from the House Education and Labor Committee, which heard Tammy Miser’s testimony in March. At the time, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), called OSHA’s failure to act “ridiculous” and vowed to push for legislation forcing the agency to act. The committee then drafted HR-5522, the bill that Congress has approved.
Miller derided OSHA for saying it needed more time to investigate. “Everyone already knows what caused the explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant and at the other places,” he declared, adding, “the problem here is that OSHA relies on voluntary agreements with industry and we see that is just not good enough. Workers cannot be asked to wait any longer for these basic protections. OSHA must be forced to act.”
He said that there were 281 combustible dust explosions between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers, injured 718 others and extensively damaged industrial facilities and that the recent tragedy at the Imperial sugar plant in Georgia underlined the reality of the danger for workers and required immediate action from OSHA.
Miller said that OSHA has failed to act after it has known for years about the dangers of combustible dust at workplaces. He said mandatory OSHA standards are the only way workers are going to get the protection they need.
The bill now goes to the Senate.