The Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA) has regulations in place that mandate accurate coal dust sampling in underground mines. Without these tests, respirable dust can result in a worker receiving a deadly diagnosis of black lung. The disease is progressive and irreversible. While treatments exist that can extend lives, lung failure and death are the end result.
Sampling helps to reduce dust levels and overall exposure to workers with ventilation and engineering controls necessary to maintain respirable coal dust at safe levels.
Safety directors create unsafe working conditions
Then-safety directors Steve DeMoss and Ron Ivy were in charge of required dust-sampling for the Parkway and Kronos mines overseen by the Armstrong Coal Company. The MSHA mandates regular testing where miners work. As operators, they can lower dust through adjustments in airflow in the mine with water sprays and various engineering controls.
Instead of doing everything in their power to keep miners safe, DeMoss and Ivy decided not to sample dusting required for full shifts, a deliberate violation of MSHA regulations. Instead, the duo continually removed dust-sampling monitors off miners who were wearing them. From there, they would move the monitors out of dusty areas of the mine and into cleaner air to avoid registering elevated dust levels.
After being found guilty of the criminal charges against them, both men were sentenced to six months of probation.
Dedicated coal miners have jobs that continually put them at risk of contracting black lung. Knowing that, they place their trust in both their employers and regulators that dust levels are at the required numbers to keep them safe. When safety directors ignore their responsibilities, whether through outright cheating or “going rogue,” they put these hard-working professionals on a path to a deadly disease without a cure.