MSHA Seeks More Comments on Proposed Coal Miner Health Rule

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Proposed standards attempt to reduce black lung disease risk.

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The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) seeks public comments about a proposed rule to improve health protections for coal miners.  As part of MSHA’s “End Black Lung – Act Now!” initiative, the agency’s proposed rule would reduce coal dust exposure levels, change sampling standards, and improve measurement technology.

Current MSHA regulations require mine operators to limit miners’ average coal dust exposure to 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m3) so as to reduce the risk of black lung disease.  MSHA now requires mine operators to use the Coal Mine Dust Personal Sampler Unit (CMDPSU) to sample the air inside mines and then to submit bimonthly samples to the agency. MSHA determines whether a mine operator is in compliance based on the average exposure in five consecutive shifts or workdays.

The proposed rule would follow a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommendation to limit average exposure to 1.0 mg/m3 of coal dust. MSHA’s goal is to set consistent limits regardless of the amount of time a worker is in a mine.  Similarly, MSHA would test concentration levels through a single, full-shift sample to prevent even short exposures to high concentration levels.

Additionally, the proposal would replace the CMDPSU with the Continuous Personal Dust Monitor (CPDM), a new device worn by miners to measure real-time coal dust exposure.  The proposal would require mine operators to send CPDM data samples to MSHA for biweekly, instead of the current bimonthly, testing.  The agency would phase in the tighter exposure level requirement over the next twenty-four months, and implement the new CPDM requirement over the next twelve to eighteen months.

Supporters of the proposed rule endorse its expected health benefits.  By contrast, others suggest that new CPDMs may hinder miner movement and be expensive to maintain.

MSHA announced its proposed rule in October, 2010. After holding a series of public meetings on the proposal, the agency announced last month a call for additional public comments to be submitted by May 2, 2011.