One year in, the Department of Labor (DOL) says its rule to protect miners from the coal dust that causes deadly black lung disease is working.
DOL’s Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) final rule, which took effect in August 2014, reduced the allowable exposure from underground mines to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3), down from the 2 mg/m3 standard that hadn’t changed since the 1970s.
On Tuesday, MSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph Main said 99 percent of the mining industry is complying with the rule.
Of nearly 62,000 dust samples taken from surface and underground coal mines from Aug. 1, 2014 to the end of July, the administration said only 1.1 percent of samples exceeded the dust concentration limits.
“This is good news for our miners,” Main said.
MSHA took 30,000 samples at 330 underground and approximately 900 surface mines and facilities. The rest were taken by coal mine operators.
Part of DOL’s 2009 End Black Lung — Act Now! campaign to raise awareness for the deadly disease that’s caused or contributed to 76,000 coal miner deaths since 1968, the rule is now entering its second phase.
Starting Feb. 1, 2016, mining operators will be required to monitor underground respirable coal dust concentrations with continuous personal dust monitors, or CPDMs. The new devices will provide miners with real-time data on dust concentrations.
With the CPDMs, Main said miners will be able to not only measure the dust, but assess where it’s the coming from and either choose to manage it or move somewhere else within the air stream.
While this rule is advancing to further protect coal miners, the agency has yet to finalize its rule to protect miners from silica dust, which can cause an irreversible lung disease known as silicosis.
“The rulemaking process is not expedient in how it’s done,” Main said. “We proposed this rule in October 2010 and issued it in May 2014.”
As for the final silica dust rule, he said, the agency is still working on it.
“I can’t give you a time other than what we have previously announced,” he said.
In the semiannual regulatory agenda that was released in May, DOL delayed the release of the final rule, due out in October, until April 2016.