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MSHA News Release No. 97-0326
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Amy Louviere or Kathrine Snyder
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Wed., March 26, 1997


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will soon announce a "grace period," when mine operators may report, without penalty, any cases of occupational illness in their workforce that may have gone unreported in the past several years, said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, speaking at the 1997 National Conference to Eliminate Silicosis today in Washington, D.C.

The agency says accurate occupational illness reporting is critical to determine if controls have been effective in preventing disease.

The "grace period" will be offered in conjunction with an informational campaign to explain occupational illness reporting requirements under Federal mine safety law, McAteer said.

"Federal law requires mine operators to report all serious work injuries and job-related illnesses, including silicosis, to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)," McAteer said. "Unfortunately, there has been some confusion about the requirement to report illnesses. Our illness data are less than complete. More information is needed on cases of silicosis and other job-related illnesses in the mining industry.

"We intend the grace period to work something like a library's no-fault return period, when borrowers can return long-overdue books without a fine," McAteer said.

The grace period is one of several steps MSHA is taking in a campaign to combat silicosis in the mining industry, according to McAteer.

More than 600 persons attended the 1997 National Conference to Eliminate Silicosis, held in Washington March 25-26 and cosponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), MSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the American Lung Association. Among the speakers at the conference was Mrs. Charlene Howard of Hulen, Ky., whose husband, a surface coal miner, died of silicosis two years ago at age 45.

"In 1994, MSHA issued a new drill dust standard to protect miners like Mrs. Howard's husband from silica in surface drilling operations. It is already resulting in reduced silica exposures at surface coal mines," McAteer said.

Over 120 people from the mining industry registered for the silicosis conference, which focused on best practices to eliminate the disease from all workplaces. In the mining industry, the number of silicosis deaths is declining, but cases continue to be diagnosed. Each year, more than 250 U.S. workers die with silicosis. Silicosis is a disabling, nonreversible and sometimes fatal disease caused by overexposure to crystalline silica.

"Currently, MSHA is also taking a fresh look at mines where silica overexposures are not being adequately addressed by feasible engineering controls. I suspect that too often we have extended abatement periods beyond what is reasonably necessary to establish effective controls," McAteer said. "We will be looking carefully at the available technology and best practices to solve these persistent problems."

In addition, MSHA is working with mining companies, labor organizations, and industry groups to get the word about silicosis out to mine operators and miners, McAteer said. "We've developed an array of educational materials--fact sheets, pocket cards for workers in potentially dusty jobs, and video tapes," McAteer said.

"With the National Stone Association, we're exploring ways to educate operators of small stone, sand and gravel operations on how to do their own silica sampling," said McAteer.

In addition, a user-friendly database of silica sampling results taken by MSHA for the last several years at metal and nonmetal mines is under development for use by inspectors and will be shared with the mining community, McAteer said.

MSHA also is moving to implement a number of recommendations offered by an advisory committee on eliminating black lung and silicosis in the coal industry, McAteer said.

McAteer emphasized that MSHA will give all possible encouragement to mine operators who take steps to improve their silica control measures, their silica sampling programs, and their reporting of silicosis cases. "In all of our enforcement decisions, the good faith that is shown in efforts to protect mine employees from silicosis will receive full consideration," McAteer said.

"Today's conference creates a tremendous opportunity to share information on silicosis prevention from industry to industry. The mining industry has answers to offer others, as well as opportunities to gain from other industries' experience," McAteer said. "Working together, we can assure that no more miners--or other American workers--are brought by silicosis to an early grave."

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