Feds launch respirable crystalline silica initiative in mining industry
A new enforcement initiative to protect miners from overexposure to respirable crystalline silica was announced on June 8 by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
The enforcement initiative will serve as a form of protection for miners while the agency continues the rulemaking process toward developing an improved mandatory health standard addressing respirable crystalline silica.

Thousands of miners are exposed each year

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in sand, stone, concrete, and mortar. Cutting, sawing, grinding and drilling materials containing crystalline silica can result in minute particles that are at least 100 times smaller than ordinary beach sand. This respirable form of crystalline silica becomes airborne and can then be easily inhaled into the lungs.

Overexposure increases the risk of developing serious silica-related diseases such as:

● coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly referred to as “black lung”
● progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung
● silicosis
● lung and other cancers
● chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and
● kidney disease.

MSHA reports that silica dust affects thousands of miners each year.

‘Lungs destroyed by toxic levels of respirable dust”

Chris Williamson, MSHA Assistant Secretary, said protecting miners from silica can’t wait.

“We are committed to using every tool in MSHA’s toolbox to protect miners from developing debilitating and deadly lung diseases that are entirely preventable,” Williamson said. “We have seen too many miners carrying oxygen tanks and struggling to breathe just to take a few steps or do the simplest of tasks after having their lungs destroyed by toxic levels of respirable dust.”

Targets mines with histories of overexposures

The enforcement initiative will see MSHA conducting silica dust-related mine inspections along with expanded silica sampling. Mine operators will be provided with compliance assistance and best practices to limit exposure.

This initiative will also include:

● spot inspections at mines with a history of repeated silica overexposures to closely monitor and evaluate safety and health conditions
● increased oversight and enforcement of known silica hazards at mines with previous citations for exposing miners to silica dust levels over the existing permissible exposure limits
● expanded silica sampling to ensure inspectors’ samples represent the mines, commodities and occupations known to have the highest risk for overexposure
● a focus on sampling during periods of the mining process that present the highest risk of silica exposure, and
● reminding miners about their rights to report hazardous health conditions, including any attempt to tamper with the sampling process.

The agency will also provide outreach and compliance assistance to mine operators, unions and other mining community organizations to raise awareness and promote protections for miners.