On Dec. 3, MSHA announced a comprehensive strategy encompassing education, enhanced enforcement, training, rulemaking and stakeholder collaboration to end new cases of black lung among the nation's coal miners.
"The Department of Labor is absolutely committed to ending black lung disease," said Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis. "We will use all the tools necessary to control dust in coal mines and reduce the risk of disease to our nation's coal miners."
Black lung is a collection of debilitating and potentially fatal diseases from respirable coal mine dust exposure. Based on recent data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (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.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 10,000 miners have died from black lung over the last decade. 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.
"While considerable progress has been made in reducing miners' exposure to respirable coal mine dust, miners continue to develop black lung and silicosis," said Joseph A. Main, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health. "Having a comprehensive strategy is essential to tackle the occurrence of this highly preventable condition.”
The major components of MSHA's action plan include:
- Public informational events in coalfield communities: Dec. 7 in Washington, Pa.; Dec. 10 in Lebanon, Va.; and Dec. 11 in Frankfort, Ky.
- The dissemination of new materials on a variety of dust-related topics, including black lung, controlling respirable dust, on-shift examinations and controlling exposure to coal mine dust containing quartz and exposure at surface mine facilities. MSHA also will post additional reports, educational materials and resources on its End Black Lung Web page.
- A series of regional, 1-day workshops jointly sponsored with NIOSH to bring together dust control experts to share their knowledge and experience on practical dust control tools and techniques to prevent disabling occupational lung disease in coal miners.
- The Dust Sweep, held during the week of Dec. 7, when every coal mine inspector will dedicate a part of each inspection to health-related activities and apply the lessons learned during the "Special Dust Emphasis Inspection Program" that took place earlier this year. MSHA then will review the quality of dust controls stipulated in approved ventilation plans and evaluate respirable dust practices during regular inspections. MSHA training specialists will monitor the quality of training provided by industry personnel on the risks of black lung and silicosis to miners and prevention methods.
- Work on a final rule concerning the approval of coal mine dust personal monitors. The rule would update approval requirements for existing monitors and establish criteria for approval of a new type of technology that reports exposure to dust levels continuously during a work shift.
- MSHA’s consideration of rulemaking on recommendations in the NIOSH Criteria Document and from the Secretary of Labor's Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Mine Workers. Some of the recommendations include lowering the level of exposure to coal mine dust, developing a separate exposure level for coal mine dust and silica, and using the CPDM to identify dust exposure and, as appropriate, for compliance.