MSHA Issues Proposed Rule on Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Respirable Coal Dust

In the Oct. 19 Federal Register, MSHA published a proposed rule on lowering miners’ exposure to respirable coal dust in all underground and surface coalmines, with the aim to end black lung disease among miners. The proposed rule is the latest element of MSHA's “End Black Lung – Act Now” campaign.

The proposed rule combines prior regulatory actions addressing lowering coal mine dust exposure, single sample, plan verification and the use of continuous personal dust monitors. It also would implement recommendations contained in the 1995 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report, as well as a 1996 Secretary of Labor's dust advisory committee report.

The proposed rule would lower the existing concentration limits for respirable coal mine dust from 2 milligrams of dust per cubic meter of air, or 2 mg/m³, to 1 mg/m³ over a 24-month phase-in period; require the use of the continuous personal dust monitor; provide for the use of a single, full-shift sample to determine compliance; address extended work shifts; and redefine normal production shifts. In addition, the proposed rule would require expanded medical surveillance so that miners can take proactive steps to better manage their health.

“Protecting miners’ health is a priority of the Department of Labor,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “This proposed rule takes concrete steps to end the terrible disease of black lung and will improve miners’ lives.”

Based on recent data from NIOSH, cases of black lung are increasing among the nation’s coal miners. Even younger miners are showing evidence of advanced and debilitating lung disease from excessive dust exposure. Over the past decade, more than 10,000 miners have died from black lung. The federal government has paid out more than $44 billion in compensation for miners totally disabled by black lung since 1970, according to the Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

“This proposed regulatory action fulfills a longstanding commitment and promise that I made on my first day with MSHA, and one to which I have been dedicated most of my working life,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “It would bring us many steps closer to overhauling an outdated program that has failed to adequately protect miners from breathing unhealthy levels of coal mine dust and achieving the intent of Congress to eliminate black lung disease.”

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