US Department of Labor Proposes Rule to Enhance Miner Health by Reducing Silica Dust Exposure
US Department of Labor Proposes Rule to Enhance Miner Health by Reducing Silica Dust Exposure

US Department of Labor Proposes Rule to Enhance Miner Health by Reducing Silica Dust Exposure

  • 06-Jul-2023 4:55 PM
  • Journalist: Emilia Jackson

US: The Safety and Health Administration has proposed to amend current federal standards to safeguard miners from health hazards caused by exposure to respirable crystalline Silica, or Silica dust. This proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor will ensure that the protection level of miners is at par with workers in other industries.

Silica dust inhalation is a common hazard for workers engaged in mining and other activities involving rock and stone cutting, sawing, drilling, or crushing. The microscopic particles of crystalline silica can cause severe damage to the lungs, leading to incurable silicosis and other respiratory diseases such as black lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Long-term exposure to Silica, a cancer-causing agent, can result in serious health issues like silicosis, progressive massive fibrosis, non-malignant respiratory disease (such as emphysema), kidney disease, and lung cancer. Inhaling mixed coal mine dust that has respirable crystalline Silica content can lead to the development of various types of pneumoconiosis conditions such as black lung disease (also known as coal workers' pneumoconiosis), multi-dust pneumoconiosis, and progressive massive fibrosis.

According to the proposed rule, mine operators would have to ensure that miners' exposure to respirable crystalline Silica is maintained at or below 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air for a complete shift, with the calculation being an average of 8 hours. If a miner's exposure surpasses the limit, the proposal mandates that operators take prompt corrective measures to bring it back to compliance.

The proposed rule aims to prevent occupational illnesses caused by Silica dust by reducing miners' exposure to it. Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health, Chris Williamson, has stressed the significant impact that this could have on the health of miners. Miners, such as those working as crusher operators or roof bolters, should not have to choose between their well-being and their livelihood. The proposed rule aligns with the Mine Act's mandate to prioritize the health of miners.

Apart from decreasing the current exposure limit, the proposal entails additional measures to safeguard the health of miners. These include exposure sampling and free medical surveillance for metal and nonmetal miners. The proposed rule also seeks to replace obsolete respiratory protection mandates with up-to-date standards that reflect the latest advancements in protective technologies and practices.

After the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, MSHA will solicit public feedback and reveal the dates for upcoming public hearings in Arlington, Virginia, and Denver, Colorado. The hearings will be accessible for both in-person attendance and online participation.

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