In April, a new study confirmed what many already knew. A definitive connection exists between silica dust and the deadly affliction that has stricken countless coal miners for decades: black lung disease.
While calls to action have not stopped, the latest findings may ramp up efforts to protect the rights of coal miners to a safe work environment. Efforts will begin soon following an announcement from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regarding changes in rules and overall health standards.
A tale of two standards
Currently, the MSHA’s exposure limit standards are only fifty percent as strong as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, putting miners at risk of doubling silica exposure. Calls to increase have fallen on deaf ears. OSHA’s long-awaited changes came in 2014, ending an era of zero changes since 1971.
Recent studies combined with an investigation in 2018 conducted by Ohio Valley ReSource, NPR, and PBS Frontline, documented several decades of countless regulatory and industry-wide failures. Shortcomings failed to protect coal miners, and the resulting “epidemic” of miners suffering from deadly diseases followed.
In addition to enforcing much-needed protection for coal miners, inspections of mines that are known for repeat offenses involving excessive silica dust increase. Those efforts will take the form of sampling method improvements and, equally as important, education of miners who uncover hazardous environments and serious job-related hazards.
It took a change in mine safety agency leadership in 2020 to spur the efforts while ending the denials of the dangers of silica dust. While administration changes occur regularly, policy stability and consistency may save the lives of hard-working coal miners.