Cindy Brown, 42, suffered burns Jan. 2 in a dust explosion that occurred while she was using a wood sander inside the Kronospan plant.
Brown was in fair condition Wednesday in the burn unit at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, said hospital spokesperson Jennifer Lollar.
No other workers were injured in the blast, said Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sparks. No other information about the extent of Brown’s injuries was available Wednesday.
Several attempts Wednesday to contact Kronospan officials for comment on the explosion were unsuccessful.
Sparks said his department received a call from Kronospan employees at 5:45 p.m. on Jan. 2 that an explosion had occurred at the plant resulting in an injury. Firefighters arrived on scene at 6 p.m. and found the female worker being treated by workers at the plant, Sparks said.
Oxford EMS took Brown to the burn unit at UAB, Sparks said.
“The employee was working in the finishing line area on a sander,” Sparks said. A spark from an unknown source ignited airborne dust creating the explosion, he said.
The explosion caused damage to the sander and ductwork overhead, and activated the plant’s sprinkler system, Sparks said. Firefighters ensured all the dust was removed from the area to prevent another explosion, he said, and had left the scene by 7:45 p.m.
Safety equipment located throughout the plant prevented additional injuries and damage, Sparks said. The building’s explosion dampers, which are designed to relieve pressure in the structure during a blast, all showed signs that they had functioned properly, he said.
“So the safety features they had in place actually worked,” Sparks said. “The sprinkler system came on and kept the fire in check. The explosion dampers blew and kept from any further damage.”
Kronospan, a worldwide manufacturer of wood panel products and laminate flooring, opened the Bynum plant in 2005. The facility produces particle board used by various industries in the manufacturing of furniture, laminate flooring, store fixtures, doors and other products.
Dust explosions are always a danger in facilities that, like Kronospan, generate large amounts of dust, Sparks said. Explosions and fires can occur when airborne dust particles suspended in a confined space are ignited by a spark or some other ignition source.
Last week’s explosion was not the first at Kronospan. Sparks said his department responded to another dust explosion 2008.
“It was actually in the back, where the dust ends up,” Sparks said. A spark ignited airborne dust in that incident as well, he said, but because of the location of the explosion, no one was injured.
A 2006 study by the Chemical Safety Board — an independent federal agency that investigates industrial accidents — found that between 1980 and 2005, roughly 281 dust explosions killed 119 U.S. workers and injured 718.
“The CSB recommended back in 2006 that OSHA develop a new comprehensive standard for preventing dust explosions,” said Daniel Horowitz, the Chemical Safety Board’s director of congressional, public and board affairs.
National fire codes have been in place for many years that discuss how to prevent dust explosions, Horowitz said, but there is no specific Occupational Health and Safety Administration regulation on dust explosions.
“There are bits and pieces of OSHA standards that are relevant, but there’s not an overall OSHA standard, and that’s a problem,” Horowitz said.
Grain dust explosions in the 1970s prompted OSHA to draft regulations for grain producers, and those explosions fell by around 60 percent, Horowitz said.
“What’s tragic about these dust explosions is, there’s so many of them and we know how to prevent all of them really,” Horowitz said. Preventing the accumulation of dust on surfaces can help stop secondary dust explosions, and other steps can control explosions inside pieces of equipment, Horowitz said.
There are signs that OSHA is moving forward with plans to add regulations pertaining to dust explosions. In OSHA’s semi-annual regulatory agenda released Dec. 21, the agency wrote that while it “does not currently have comprehensive standards that address combustible dust hazards” it will use the information it’s gathered in recent years to implement new regulation.
“We’re encouraged,” Horowitz said of OSHA’s recent announcement. “This was the first regulatory standard the Obama administration said they’d develop, but then it went on the back burner.”
“It’s not going as quickly as we’d hoped, and dust explosions continue to occur, but at least we hope it’s now moving along in the right direction,” Horowitz said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.