On the Department of Labor’s blog, the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Joe Main, wrote a post which draws upon his experience as a coal miner to provide an explanation for why the new coal mine dust rule is needed and how it will help fulfill Congress’s promise to make sure our mines “are sufficiently free of respirable dust concentrations in the mine atmosphere to permit each miner the opportunity to work underground during the period of his entire adult working life without incurring any disability from pneumoconiosis or any other occupation-related disease during or at the end of such period.” 30 U.S.C. § 841(b).
(The new dust rule was previously covered on this blog in this post by Tarence Ray.)
Rather than focusing upon the reduction in the overall dust level from 2.0 mg/m3 to 1.5 mg/m3, Main says “We think some of the biggest changes are provisions that close the loopholes that can mask overexposures and keep us from getting a true picture of how much dust miners are breathing.” Main draws attention to changes regarding:
- how dust samples are averaged to determine compliance,
- sampling on all shifts and recognizing that shifts are longer than 8 hours,
- increasing the minimum production level for taking a valid sample from 50% to 80%,
- requiring immediate action when dust samples are out of compliance and increasing the number of required samples when a mine has dust control problems,
- strengthening certification and verification procedures for samplers, and
- introducing the continuous personal dust monitors (CPDM) to provide better data about miners’ exposure and allow miners to directly monitor their own exposure.
Main concludes: “I am confident that we can carry out Congress’ intent through this rule, reducing dust levels and, ultimately, preventing miners from getting black lung. It is time for the mining community to act to end this disease. The implementation of this new and historic rule will do just that.“
The rule is currently subject to a pre-enforcement legal challenge brought by the National Mining Association and other members of the coal industry. Details of the challenge will be covered in future posts on this blog, but the challenge is Case No. 11-11942 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.