Occupational Health News Roundup

Last year, coal miner Scott Howard of Letcher County, Kentucky sued the Mine Safety and Health Administration for failing to “promulgate a respirable dust regulation that will eliminate respiratory illness caused by work in coal mines.” Howard alleged that this failure left him in unsafe working conditions; he filed his suit after new studies found bluck lung disease increasing among Appalachian miners. As Ken Ward Jr. reports in the Charleston Gazette, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has now ruled that “Howard could not successfully bring the lawsuit because he had not yet petitioned MSHA directly to write the regulations.”

In 1969, federal law limited coal dust in underground mines to 2 milligrams per cubic meter of air. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has long recommended that the limit but halved. The Clinton administration’s effort to tighten the limit wasn’t completed by the time the Bush administration took office, and Bush’s MSHA chief Dave Lauriski dropped the proposal. Ward notes in his Coal Tattoo blog that the decision against Howard puts the ball back in MSHA’s court, and wonders whether Joe Main, Obama’s pick to run MSHA, will be confirmed quickly and be able to speed up the process on a coal-dust rule; right now, the administration isn’t planning to even publish a proposed rulemaking until April 2011.

In other news:

Savannah Morning News (Georgia): Following the explosion at Imperial Sugar’s Port Wentworth refinery that killed 14 people and injured many more, OSHA conducted interviews with more than 100 workers. Reports from these interviews suggest many workers were never trained by the company on how to evacuate the building in an emergency.

The Desert Sun (California): A group of farmworkers from the Coachella Valley petitioned California and federal lawmakers to provide them with clean drinking water and sewer systems.

Washington Post: Robert Ranghelli talked to news outlets about mishandling of bodies at the funeral hope where he worked; now, he’s been fired for violating company policy by speaking with the media.

New York Times (editorial): The Labor Department should move swiftly to improve pay and overtime rules for home healthcare aides.

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