The US Department of Labor agency The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has finalised new rules to reduce cases of black lung disease, which is caused by miners being exposed to respirable dust in underground and surface coal mines.
The final rule is part of the department's initiative titled, End Black Lung -- Act Now!, to completely eliminate lung diseases among miners.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), since 1968, the disease has killed more than 76,000 miners and has forced the government to pay out more than $45bn in federal compensation benefits to coal miners who have been disabled by black lung diseases.
As part of the new rules, coal mine workers can not be exposed to mine dust for long durations as it causes pneumoconiosis, emphysema and progressive massive fibrosis, which can ultimately lead to permanent disability and death.
To prevent overexposure, mining firms must change sampling practices, make use of technology to provide real-time information about dust levels, create better working conditions and eliminate any possible loopholes that could lead to dust exposure.
The department has given the industry a time of two years to comply with the new rules, add new monitoring equipment and to obtain compliance assistance from MSHA.
Compliance with the new rules would allow mining firms to reduce overall dust standard from 2.0mg to 1.5mg per cubic metre of air, and also reduce the standard from 1.0mg to 0.5mg for certain miners with pneumoconiosis.
Labor for Mine Safety and Health assistant secretary Joseph A. Main said that this final rule fulfils a longstanding commitment made with MSHA.
"We are finally moving forward to overhaul an outdated programme that has failed to adequately protect miners from breathing unhealthy levels of coal mine dust and achieving the intent of Congress to eliminate black lung disease," Main said.
"In developing the final rule, we carefully considered public comments and applied a strategic approach; it is the product of years of MSHA's efforts to improve health protections for coal miners."
Image: Exposure to coal dust causes lung diseases for miners. Photo: courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.