MSHA Final Rule Lowers Coal Dust Exposure Limits

Starting Feb. 1, 2016, mine operators must use continuous personal dust monitors to monitor the exposures of underground coal miners in occupations exposed to the highest respirable dust concentrations and the exposures of miners who have evidence of the development of pneumoconiosis. The rule also expands medical surveillance requirements and extends them to surface coal miners.

MSHA is issuing a final rule that, as of Aug. 1, 2016, lowers the concentration limits for respirable coal mine dust from 2.0 milligrams of dust per cubic meter of air (mg/m³) to 1.5 mg/m³ at underground and surface coal mines and from 1.0 mg/m³ to 0.5 mg/m³ for intake air at underground mines and for part 90 miners (coal miners who have evidence of the development of pneumoconiosis). Starting Feb. 1, 2016, mine operators must use continuous personal dust monitors to monitor the exposures of underground coal miners in occupations exposed to the highest respirable dust concentrations and the exposures of miners who have evidence of the development of pneumoconiosis.

The rule also expands medical surveillance requirements and extends them to surface coal miners. It adds spirometry testing, occupational history, and symptom assessment to the periodic chest x-ray examinations that are currently required to be offered by mine operators to underground miners. The rule supports MSHA's End Black Lung — Act Now! initiative and was announced April 23 during an event at a NIOSH facility in Morgantown, W.Va.

NIOSH estimates more than 76,000 miners have died since 1968 from black lung disease and more than $45 billion in federal compensation benefits have been paid out to coal miners disabled by it and their survivors.

"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 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."

MSHA had issued a proposed rule in October 2010 and made several minor changes when it drafted the final rule. 

"This final rule fulfills a longstanding commitment that I made on my first day with MSHA and one to which I have been dedicated most of my working life," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main. "We are finally moving forward to overhaul an outdated program that has failed to adequately protect miners from breathing unhealthy levels of coal mine dust and achieving the intent of Congress to eliminate black lung disease."

MSHA is holding a stakeholder meeting April 24 at its headquarters in Arlington, Va., to highlight the major provisions of the rule, its new requirements, and its effective dates. The agency will hold field seminars in coal mining regions to provide a comprehensive review of the new requirements for underground and surface coal operators. A complete schedule of field seminars and a copy of the final rule are available at http://www.msha.gov/endblacklung/.

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