The Mine Safety and Health Administration is implementing a new silica enforcement initiative.
Studies have shown prolonged exposure to silica dust causes pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease. Coal seams are thinner, requiring workers to cut through rock that contains silica.
Under the new plan, mines will be inspected more frequently and will be required to abate silica dust that exceeds what federal law allows.
The agency will review plans for dust control at coal mines and take samples more frequently.
Miners will also be encouraged to report unsafe working conditions without fear of retaliation.
The changes were announced to a black lung conference in West Virginia by Chris Williamson, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety And Health. Williamson is from Mingo County.
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, praised MSHA’s move.
“We know what causes black lung and how to prevent this deadly disease from stealing the lives of our nation’s coal miners,” Roberts said.
Mine safety advocates want MSHA to cut the amount of silica dust allowed in mines in half to match what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration allows in other workplaces.
An NPR investigation in 2018 found that exposure to high amounts of silica dust put miners, especially younger ones, at increased risk of developing black lung disease and dying of it.