The Mine Safety and Health Administration will hold hearings regarding their proposal to change the system for sampling, detecting and controlling dust in all U.S. coal mines.
Northern West Virginia area coal miners and mine operators, as well as other interested persons, are invited to express their opinion concerning the proposed rules during a hearing next Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 7-8, in Morganstown, W.Va.
Each hearing begins at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday''s hearing will end at noon.
"We are bringing this hearing to Morganstown to make it convenient for area coal miners to attend," said Davitt McAteer, MSHA administrator. "We want to have the full participation of miners and mine operators in this rulemaking process. All comments received during the hearings will be given thorough consideration when we develop the final rule."
In the first comprehensive change in 30 years, MSHA is proposing 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.
The National Mining Association (NMA) looks forward to actively participating in MSHA''s proposed revisions to the dust control program.
"There are some innovative aspects of the new program that incorporate recommendations that mine operators have long urged the agency to adopt," said NMA President Richard Lawson. "For instance, the rule would allow the use of air purifying respirator helmets as a means of compliance with the respirable dust standard in concert with traditional ventilation and dust control mechanisms. That is a major technical and policy breakthrough."
The agency also proposes that MSHA verify the effectiveness of the mine operator''s dust control measures specified in its 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.
Miners'' representatives would have the right to observe the sampling plan verification as well as compliance sampling by MSHA inspectors.
The proposed rule would allow MSHA inspectors to issue citations for non-compliance when a full-shift sample demonstrates, at a high level of confidence, that the applicable dust control standard has been exceeded on an individual shift.
Currently, MSHA averages that can mask signifcant single-shift over-exposures by diluting a measurement of high dust exposure with one of lower dust concentration.
That is one part of MSHA''s plan that NMA is not praising.
"We still have serious reservations with regard to the accuracy of single-shift sampling as a means for determining compliance with the dust standard," said Lawson. "There are complex scientific and policy issues that we intend vigorously to address in the upcoming hearings."
Nevertheless, Lawson added that the association wholeheartedly agrees with MSHA that the coal industry has made great strides in reducing miners'' exposure to respirable coal dust over the past several decades.
"Together the changes we are proposing would act as the cornerstone of a restructured system to prevent black lung and silicosis," said MSHA''s 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."
The deadline for written comments on the proposed rule is Aug. 24.
Interested parties who cannot attend the hearing can e-mail their comments to "[email protected]" or fax comments to (703) 235-5551.
In addition to Morganstown, public hearings will also be held on the proposal in Prestonburg, Ky., on Aug. 10 and 11 and in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Aug. 16 and 17.
MSHA hopes to issue the rules in final form by the end of the year.
by Virginia Sutcliffe