The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is proposing to change the system for sampling, detecting and controlling dust in coal mines.
Three public hearings will be held in August to discuss comments on the proposal.
In the first comprehensive change in 30 years, the agency proposes to take over all sampling in underground coal mines to check for compliance with dust limits set to prevent lung disease.
Mine operators have performed most of this sampling for the past 30 years.
"Under our proposals, federal mine inspectors would do all the sampling to find out if underground coal miners are overexposed to respirable dust that can cause black lung and silicosis," said MSHA Administrator Davitt McAteer. "Consistent with this decision, the agency would also rely only on MSHA inspector samples as the basis for setting the applicable dust standard when quartz is present. These changes will restore miners'' confidence in the sampling program."
Second, the agency would verify the effectiveness of operator''s dust control measures specified in the mine ventilation plan under more typical production levels before these plans are approved.
Currently each underground coal mine operator must have an MSHA-approved ventilation plan but its effectiveness in controlling respirable dust is not verified prior to approval. Samples must reflect the quality of the air that the miners are breathing.
Under the new system, miners'' representatives would have the right to observe the sampling for plan verification as well as compliance sampling by MSHA inspectors.
Third, this proposal would also allow MSHA inspectors to issue citations for non-compliance when a full-shift sample demonstrates, at a high level of confidence, that the applicable standard has been exceeded on an individual shift.
Currently, MSHA samples (eight hours or less in duration) to determine noncompliance, a procedure that can mask significant single-shift overexposures by diluting a measurement of high dust exposure with one of lower dust concentration.
"This change in MSHA enforcement strategy will allow for more rapid detection of excessive dust conditions and response to improve the quality of the mine air to which miners are exposed," said McAteer.
Fourth, the proposals also would allow interim use of loose-fitting, powered air-purifying respirators and administrative controls, such as worker rotation, to supplement engineering controls in some longwall operations where all feasible engineering controls are not enough to achieve compliance.
The agency also is requesting comments on the possible future use of personal continuous dust exposure monitoring as an alternative to plan verification, as well as any information which may be available concerning developing exposure assessment technology.
"Together, the changes we are proposing would act as the cornerstone of a restructured system to prevent black lung and silicosis," said McAteer. "When we are able to set these changes in place, coal miners can have greater confidence in the system to monitor -- and most importantly, control -- dust that can harm their health."
MSHA is asking the mining community for comments on the respirable dust proposals.
The deadline for written comments is Aug. 24. Interested parties can e-mail comments to: [email protected]
Public hearings will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 7 at the Holiday Inn, 1400 Saratoga Ave., Morganstown, W.Va., on Aug. 10 at the Holiday Inn, 1887 N. US 23, Prestonburg, Ky., and on Aug. 16 at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center, 255 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah.
McAteer said that after thoroughly considering all comments from the public, MSHA will work towards issuing the rules in final form by the end of the year.
by Virginia Sutcliffe