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Family Farewell to Carolyn W. Merritt

Whether she wants it or not Carolyn W. Merritt is one of my heroes. Carolyn has lead the CSB since my brother Shawn's death and has always been a source of hope. One of the toughest things for families to overcome is the fact that that it has happened before.

As I look back I can remember the anger I felt knowing my brother could still be with us. He wouldn't have had to endure his last hours on this earth in the manner he had. There were accounts before my brothers death, the information, and data was available but no one stood up and fought for what most would think was common sense. My family was caught up in the politics of it all and my brother was dead all because it was cheaper to pay a few fine than it was to keep the workplace safe.

What was even more disturbing is that it is not just a few select companies; there are trench incidents every day and they still get by with it because the regulations are not enforced. Many times OSHA investigations are not preformed if there is no state plan, the DOJ has a closed door meeting and whittles down the fines and penalties or somehow the blame gets shifted on the worker.

We needed a strong lead, someone who would stand up for the common man or women's needs and Carolyn did.

Carolyn is a strong, compassionate leader who has been in politics but hasn't let it pilot her ethics. Carolyn has done a terrific job of letting the families be heard and putting the human factor back into the system. God knows I will miss her in her role and I pray she has the same success in her family life that she had during her duration at the CSB.

View the CSB Videotaped Farewell Interview of Departing Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt

There are still no regulations pertaining to combustible dust as OSHA has not even replied to the CSB. Those involved with this issue are hopeful as there have been steps taken by some states to change they way combustible dust is dealt with by training the fire departments on how to identify hazards and informing companies about the potential of an explosion. MSDS sheets have made changes and some companies themselves have headed the warning. More work is needed so that our loved ones did not die in vain and other family's do not feel the same heartache and disillusionment.

The CSB identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers and injured 718.
CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt stated, "Combustible dust fires and explosions are devastating, preventable, and often fatal tragedies. Dust explosions often cause loss of life and terrible economic consequences. While some programs to mitigate dust hazards exist at the state and local levels, they form a patchwork of adapted and adopted voluntary standards that are challenging to enforce. New federal standards are necessary to prevent further loss of life."

January 29, 2003, West Pharmaceutical Services Dust Explosion and Fire, Kinston, NC -A n explosion and fire destroyed the West Pharmaceutical Services plant in Kinston, North Carolina, causing six deaths, dozens of injuries, and hundreds of job losses. The facility produced rubber stoppers and other products for medical use. The fuel for the explosion was a fine plastic powder, which accumulated above a suspended ceiling over a manufacturing area at the plant and ignited.


February 20, 2003, CTA Acoustics Dust Explosion and Fire, Corbin, KY- An explosion and fire damaged the CTA Acoustics manufacturing plant in Corbin, Kentucky, fatally injuring seven workers. The facility produced fiberglass insulation for the automotive industry. CSB investigators have found that the explosion was fueled by resin dust accumulated in a production area, likely ignited by flames from a malfunctioning oven. The resin involved was a phenolic binder used in producing fiberglass mats.


October 29, 2005 Hayes Lemmerz Dust Explosions and Fire, Huntington, - a series of explosions severely burned two workers, injured a third, and caused property damage to the Hayes Lemmerz manufacturing plant in Huntington, Indiana. One of the severely burned men subsequently died. The Hayes Lemmerz plant manufactures cast aluminum automotive wheels, and the explosions were fueled by accumulated aluminum dust, a flammable byproduct of the wheel production process.

The explosions, which occur when fine particles of combustible material are ignited, occur in many industries including rubber and plastic products, chemical manufacturing, primary metal, lumber and wood products, and food products, the CSB found. The explosions and fires have occurred nationwide.