More than 4,600 coal miners developed the most severe form of black lung disease since 1970, with over half of those cases occurring after 2000, according to a May 2018 study.
Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers of America, and Leo Gerard of United Steelworkers, addressed a letter on June 19, urging the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to institute a new silica standard in response to the spike in black lung cases.
What is Silica?
Silica is a crystalline compound and known carcinogen found in sand and stone.
When released into the air, respirable silica can cause silicosis, a chronic disease that involves scarred lung tissue. OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust each year.
Coal miners get black lung disease from inhaling coal dust over a long period of time, which causes their lungs to blacken. The spike in black lung diagnoses may be caused by a change in mining practices that produces higher levels of crystalline silica during coal extraction.
Miners are also working longer hours for more days per week, leaving their lungs with less time to recover.
A New MSHA Silica Standard
MSHA’s current silica standards have not been updated since 1985.
Roberts and Gerard urged the administration to follow the example of OSHA’s updated silica standards for construction, general industry, and maritime. Those standards, which were updated over the past three years, cut the permissible exposure limit in half to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour period.
“MSHA should consider the OSHA silica rule and then promulgate a new rule that is as, if not more, protective of miners,” the letter argues.
“Currently, our nation provides less protection from silica to miners than to any other group of workers. That is unacceptable.”
The letter also included these steps for MSHA to take to reduce black lung disease:
- Require post-shift assessments of mine workers’ exposure to silica with the newly developed NIOSH tool.
- Require more miners to be sampled.
- Focus on cutting activities that involve high concentrations of silica.
- Work closely with organizations such as NIOSH and the National Black Association to share information and monitor trends.
Protect Your Team From Silica Dust
Employers can take their own steps towards a proactive solution to silica exposure.
As union leaders recommend, testing workers regularly can help you monitor exposure and implement controls where necessary.
Take your first step with on-site medical testing from Worksite Medical.
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