Thursday, April 24, 2014

New coal dust rule aimed at battling Black Lung

New regulations designed to limit coal miners’ exposure to coal dust underground have been rolled out by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Health Safety and Labor Administration. The new rule announced Wednesday in Morgantown intends to lower levels of exposure to coal mine dust, increase sampling and give the industry a two-year period to implement the new regulations.

“Today we advance a very basic principle: you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your life for your livelihood. But that’s been the fate of more than 76,000 miners who have died at least in part because of black lung since 1968,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “I believe we can have both healthy miners and a thriving coal industry. The nation made a promise to American miners when we passed the Coal Act in 1969 – with today’s rule we’re making good on that promise.”

This final rule is part of the Labor Department’s End Black Lung – Act Now! Initiative. 

Prolonged exposure to coal dust can cause debilitating 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 over 76,000 miners have died since 1968 as the result of the disease.

“It’s profoundly moving to be here with miners and miners’ families who have been directly affected. Sometimes when you inside the beltway in Washington, D.C. you don’t have an appropriate feel for the impact,” admitted Perez. “You’ve got to make house calls.”

More than $45 billion in federal compensation benefits have been paid out to coal miners disabled by black lung and their survivors. Evidence indicates that miners, including young miners, are continually being diagnosed with the disease.

“Rather than figure out how to prevent it we deal with the consequences of the train wreck,” said Perez. “What we’re doing here is following the science and using the technologies that are out there that prevents the disease.”

The final rule:

- lowers levels of miners’ exposure to respirable coal mine dust and further reduces dust exposure by closing loopholes and improving sampling practices to better reflect actual working conditions and protect all miners from overexposures;

- increases sampling and makes use of cutting-edge technology developed for the mining environment to provide real-time information about dust levels, allowing miners and operators to identify problems and make necessary adjustments instead of letting overexposures languish; also requires immediate corrective action when a sample finds an excessive concentration of dust; and

- has a common-sense phase-in over a two-year period to give the industry the time it needs to adjust to the new requirements, acquire monitoring equipment and obtain compliance assistance from MSHA.