Implementation of the regulation aimed at preventing black lung disease began on Aug. 1, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). “Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust, Including Continuous Personal Dust Monitors,” was released on May 1 and will be phased in over the next two years at all surface and underground coal mining operations. The first phase of the rule continues the department’s efforts through its End Black Lung – Act Now! initiative.
Prolonged exposure to respirable coal mine dust causes lung diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, emphysema and progressive massive fibrosis. These diseases, collectively referred to as black lung, can lead to permanent disability and death. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, more than 76,000 miners have died since 1968 as the result of the disease, and more than $45 billion in federal compensation benefits have been paid to coal miners disabled by black lung and their survivors.
The final rule lowers miners’ exposure to coal dust, substantially increases operator sampling for respirable coal mine dust, and requires immediate corrective action when an operator’s sample shows excessive concentrations. While the frequency of sampling by MSHA inspectors does not change, the final rule authorizes MSHA to cite an operator based on a single MSHA sample showing excessive dust, rather than on an average of samples.
The first of three phases is effective on Aug. 1 and provides immediate protections to miners. The provisions include the following:
• Compliance is determined based on a single, full-shift sample obtained by MSHA; measurement does not stop after eight hours.
• Immediate corrective action is required when a single, full-shift sample obtained by an operator finds an excessive level of dust. Failure to take corrective action will result in a citation.
• Sampling is required on all shifts.
• Underground mine operators must collect respirable dust samples when mines are operating at 80 percent of production, so that samples are more representative of actual working conditions.
• Training and certification is strengthened for people who conduct sampling, and the decertification process is defined by regulation for the first time.
• More thorough examinations of dust controls on mining sections are required during each shift.
• The number of work positions to be sampled at surface mines increases significantly.
• Periodic X-ray requirements for underground miners are extended to surface miners. The requirements are also expanded beyond X-rays to include lung function testing, occupational history and symptom assessment.
• Transfer rights for miners with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis are extended to surface miners.
• Sampling of miners with coal workers pneumoconiosis is increased.
“MSHA has worked extensively with the mining community since April to make sure these new protections are in place and that miners get the benefit of lower dust levels in the air they breathe,” Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “The recent impact inspection at Rhino Eastern LLC’s Eagle Mine 3, where inspectors found virtually no dust controls, underscores the need for this rule,” he added.
The next phase of implementation of the final rule goes into effect on Feb. 1, 2016.