Reaction to the federal coal dust standard rule that was released by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) on April 23 included critical response from the National Mining Association and the promise to sue from at least one coal mining corporation.
MSHA issued a final rule to lower miners' exposure to respirable coal mine dust in all underground and surface coal mines (ME, April 24). The final rule, that will be phased in over a two-year period, reduces the overall dust standard from 2.0 to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter of air and cuts in half the standard from 1.0 to 0.5 for certain mine entries and miners with pneumoconiosis; requires immediate action when dust levels are high; requires more frequent sampling of areas known to have relatively high dust levels; changes the method of averaging dust samples; requires sampling for the full shift a miner works; for MSHA-collected samples, MSHA will issue a citation for any single, full-shift sample at or exceeding the citation level; requires dust samples to be taken when mines are operating at 80 percent of production; and improves medical surveillance of miners.
“Today’s announcement represents a lost opportunity to provide better protection for those who need it and more job security for all our coal miners,” said National Mining Association (NMA) president and CEO Hal Quinn in a statement. “We are disappointed that MSHA has chosen to ignore scientific evidence and proven solutions to address exposure to coal dust. The incidence of disease, as documented in the x-ray surveillance data compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has decreased in most regions and where it does exist, it is clustered in isolated geographical areas. Rather than follow the evidence with a focused response, MSHA has unfortunately decided to proceed with a less effective one-size-fits-all nationwide approach.
“MSHA also declined to embrace constructive suggestions and proven solutions to reduce miner’s exposure to respirable coal dust. These include the use of proven personal protection technologies; rotating miners to minimize the duration of exposure to areas of the mine where coal dust is prevalent; and requiring that miners participate in x-ray surveillance programs to encourage prompt medical intervention.
“All of these measures and more have been recommended by NMA and are recognized in other industries to protect workers, yet all were ignored in favor of a standard that experts have concluded cannot be met by existing technologies.”
Murray Energy Corp. responded to the release of the rule with an announcement that it intends to sue the U.S. Department of Labor.
MSHA will hold field seminars in coal mining regions to provide a comprehensive review of the new requirements to underground and surface coal operators. Training will be provided to MSHA coal mine safety and health enforcement personnel within five weeks of the promulgation of the final rule. All training materials will be available on MSHA's website at http://www.msha.gov.