WASHINGTON, D.C. — A rule that will completely overhaul the current system of how coal mine dust is measured and addressed kicks in with phase one Friday.
“I think that folks understand that we’re very serious about making sure that the new rule that we’ve implemented are complied with, including those on-shift checks that are really critical,” federal Mine Safety and Health Administration Chief Joe Main told MetroNews Thursday.
Main has been pushing the elimination of Black Lung since he took the position as assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Labor in 2009. He said the new rule and its two-year phase in is a major step in the right direction.
Provisions that begin Friday include coal dust sampling on all shifts and for the entire shift not just eight hours like the current requirement.
“Regardless of the shift length–they now have to be sampled for the entire shift,” Main said. “So we’re going to start knowing what the full exposure of these miners on these longer shifts.”
Main and others have said the coal dust rules that have been in effect since the late 1960s have had too many loopholes. OSHA statistics show 76,000 miners have died of Black Lung related diseases in the last 40-plus years.
“August 1 marks the beginning of a healthier future for coal miners in America,”” Main said. “Miners can have greater confidence that the air they breathe at work will not destroy their lungs.”
MSHA officials have traveled the country since the new rule was announced May 1 alerting coal operators of their new responsibilities. Main believes the agency will see immediate results. He said no longer will the operators be able to delay issues with high readings.
“Every sample that exceeds the standard requires immediate corrective action. So all of those miners that may have been sampled with no action in the past will have action taken to lower the dust levels,” Main said.
According to MSHA the new provision includes:
–Compliance is determined based on a single, full-shift sample obtained by MSHA; measurement does not stop after 8 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.