Jessica Lilly Published

Black Lung Victims Hope New Regs Provide a Different Future for Young Miners


Landmark regulation by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration meant to lower the amount of dust in mines begins Friday. The first part is meant to fix the loopholes in the sampling process. Victims of black lung hope the new regulations give young workers a better future. 

“I’m hoping that the new regulation will help people from getting black lung,” Gary Hairston of Beckley said before a black lung meeting in June. “Because I’m going to tell you what, when you can’t breathe and you can’t do the things that you used to do I’m telling you what it’s hard, especially men.”

Hairston says he worked in several mines throughout southern West Virginia with companies like Maben Energy, New River and Massey Energy.

For 27 years he worked underground, and says he enjoyed his job. Still he admits that he would take advantage of the loopholes in the dust sampling process after pressure from supervisors.

“I wish I would have had the samples come out the way they should have come out instead of trying to keep it from happening,” Hairston admitted.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is hoping to relieve that pressure supervisors can sometimes put on miners with new landmark regulations. The first phase requires operators to check every dust control system in the mine plan, immediately correct any issues, and record the findings.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for the MSHA  Joe Main, said in an interview earlier this summer, this phase will help regulators get a clearer picture of the amount of dust miners are exposed to.

“It’s what they should be doing now in terms of the examination. This is going to hold them more accountable in terms of making sure that examinations are actually being done.”

Phase one is broken into twelve parts including updated certifications, de-certification system, expanding medical surveillance and more.

Like Gary Hairston, Robert Bailey was also a miner who felt pressured to bend the rules and says if he could back he would probably do things differently.

Bailey also has black lung after working thirty six years underground.

“I spent 30 years mostly in the face working,”  he said. “That’s really too long for a miner to spend in the face area. They shouldn’t be exposed to dust for that long of period of time through their career because that’s what’s helped to put me at where I’m at now.”

A small puff sends oxygen into Bailey’s nose to help him stay alive. You might remember him. He’s in need of lung transplant and when he found, Patriot Coal’s insurance company, Underwriters Safety and Claims informed Bailey, the company was not approving the next medical appointment about his lungs, until hours after we reached out to insurance company.

Bailey hopes the new regulations help provide a better future for young miners.

“The main thing is that they put it to practice. Without the practice it would lead to no benefit,” he said.