MSHA Proposal Lowers Miners’ Exposure to Coal Dust

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Oct 15, 2010 in Wrongful Death

Workers and operators of West Virginia coal mines will see more changes soon. The Mine Safety and Health Administration announced a proposed rule this week that is the latest step in the agency's "End Black Lung - Act Now!" campaign. If adopted, the rule would cut in half the limits of coal dust in the air in underground mines over a two-year period.

The current limit is 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter of air. The regulation would require the limit to be reduced by 0.3 milligrams to 1.7 milligrams within six months of the rule's adoption. The next year, the limit would lower to 1.5 milligrams; in the year following, the limit would be tightened to 1.0 milligrams per cubic meter of air.

The agency recommended the step-down so that coal companies have time to figure out the engineering aspects of lowering the amount of dust in the air. The industry will have to identify, develop and then implement controls. And, as with all new technology and new control systems, the companies will need time to develop and deliver training to appropriate personnel.

The reduction in the limit to half its current level should reduce the risk of disease among coal miners. Recent data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health showed an increase in black lung disease among the nation's miners. The disease, caused by excessive exposure to coal dust, claimed 10,000 lives over the past 10 years.

The focus on miners' health is reinforced in one provision of the regulation. MSHA, acting on recommendations from NIOSH and other federal health agencies, has included a program of expanded medical surveillance of miners' health. Early detection of disease and overall health management are the dual objectives.

The Office of Workers' Compensation Programs at the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that, over the last 30 years, the federal government has paid out more than $44 billion to workers who have been totally disabled by black lung. This new regulation, MSHA representatives say, should help to overhaul the outdated guidelines that clearly failed to protect miners from the dangers of coal dust.

Resource: Mine Safety and Health Administration "MSHA Issues Proposed Rule on Lowering Miners' Exposure to Respirable Coal Dust" 10/14/10

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