MSHA rule to protect workers from black lung disease on the horizon

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is preparing to propose new regulations to protect coal mine workers from the respirable dust hazards that cause black lung disease. In May, the Labor Department’s regulatory agenda indicated that MSHA would propose a rule in September. The White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) completed its review of the rule, deemed to be economically significant, on September 29. The proposal was returned to MSHA from OIRA with the notation that it is approved “consistent with change.” Depending on the complexity of the comments made by OIRA, MSHA’s proposal could be published in the Federal Register in the next several weeks. I’ve written previously (here, here, here) about why these rules are necessary and long overdue.

The MSHA proposal is expected to integrate issues such as lowering the coal dust exposure limit, verification of mine operators’ dust control plans, single-shift sampling, and devices to continuously monitor respirable dust concentrations. Some of these ideas were proposed in July 2000 by MSHA during the Clinton Administration, but Mr. Main (at the time he was the UMWA’s H&S director) called that plan “fatally flawed.” As a result, the rule was not finalized. Now, with Mr. Main at the helm as the asst. secretary of labor for MSHA, I’ll be eager to see how his proposal tackles these complex issues. In the end, the objective is getting a progressive rule on the books to eliminate, once and for all, black lung disease among U.S. miners.

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