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MSHA News Release No. 97-1209
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Tuesday, December 9, 1997

Multiple Actions Part of 96 Black Lung Advisory Committee Recommendations
Federal Effort to End Black Lung Disease Takes Form of Nationwide Mine Sweep

Federal inspectors from the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) began visiting the nation's nearly 700 underground coal mines today to kick off the next phase of the agency's effort to eliminate black lung disease from America's mines. The inspectors will provide education and training materials to miners and mine operators concerning the dangers associated with exposure to excessive levels of respirable coal mine dust which causes black lung disease.

This nation-wide coal mine dust sweep will highlight the risk of black lung disease and is part of a multiple initiative which also involves expansion of the MSHA dust sampling program in several states including Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia and the commencement of an enhanced special emphasis inspection process for certain underground and surface coal mines.

"Both miners and mine operators clearly need to understand that proper controls in the mining environment that are consistently applied and maintained is the key to ending black lung disease among miners," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Most importantly, they have to recognize that we need their help, their awareness, and their concern about black lung disease to accomplish this task."

Proper controls for reducing exposure to coal mine dust are documented in the approved ventilation plan for each underground coal mine and may include engineering practices such as the appropriate use of ventilation, water sprays, and dust scrubbers, among other actions.

MSHA inspectors will attempt to reach as many miners as possible to discuss hazards associated with exposure to coal mine dust, to re-emphasize the requirement to check all respirable dust controls at the beginning of each production shift, and to provide them with a packet of information on occupational lung diseases as well as their rights and responsibilities under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act.

The current initiative also involves expansion of a pilot program that increases dust sampling inspections in certain areas of Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and all of Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia, from an average of one per year at all coal mines to a frequency of four times per year at underground mines and twice per year at each surface mine. In addition, MSHA will now conduct special emphasis inspections on, at least, a monthly basis at mines identified as having problems complying with respirable dust standards. The special emphasis inspections will focus on the maintenance and operation of required dust controls, on the adequacy of the operators requirement to conduct an on-shift examination of those controls, and a requirement for operators to collect representative dust samples.

"The special emphasis inspections are important to addressing the problem of black lung disease," said McAteer. "Time and time again miners told the black lung advisory committee that adequate dust controls are only in place when our inspectors are present. These special emphasis inspections will help insure that required dust controls are in place and and functioning properly on a consistent basis. During these inspections, we can note the effective techniques used where we find compliance with our standards and compile a best practices' guide for use by mine operations that seem to have a problem controlling dust. Also, where we find non-compliance, operators should be advised that we will issue citations as required by the Mine Act."

This initiative is part of the efforts begun nearly two years ago to eliminate black lung disease from the mines of this country. In 1995, a Secretary of Labor's Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Mine Workers was impanelled to recommend a plan to address the problem. The nine-member advisory committee, which met in coal mining areas around the country during 1996, issued its recommendations in a 116-page report released one year ago. The report addressed the federal program to prevent occupational lung diseases among coal miners and contained recommendations comprised of more than one hundred specific action items directed toward elimination of coal workers' pneumoconiosis, also commonly referred to as black lung.

As suggested by the advisory committee report, in June MSHA announced a strengthening of existing enforcement procedures to give coal miners better protection against lung diseases. Revised procedures to inspectors included instruction to inspect for compliance with requirements to perform an on-shift examination of respirable dust controls, to emphasize examination of dust controls on roof bolting machines and of machine-mounted dust collectors on continuous mining machines.

Also, as suggested by the committee report, the agency is working on new regulations to require mine operators to verify the effectiveness of dust control plans, to provide X-ray screening for all coal miners and to establish a separate standard for silica dust. Efforts are also underway to test a new device which will continuously measure dust levels.

As part of the current black lung initiative, MSHA will also offer local seminars on black lung awareness for miners and mine operators in coal mining regions of the country. The agency will provide more information to miners on the disease during normal training sessions and will require re-training of mine personnel as part of procedures to abate citations issued for repeated non-compliance with requirements for respirable dust standards.

Since 1990, coal mine operators and contractors have reported nearly 3,000 cases of black lung to MSHA.

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