June 16, 2022

MSHA to Increase Inspections, Silica Sampling at Mines

A new enforcement initiative launched by the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is intended to improve U.S. miners’ protections from respirable crystalline silica hazards. In a press release published on June 8, MSHA explains that the initiative will involve mine inspections related to silica dust and expanded silica sampling at mines. The agency says it will also renew efforts to notify miners of their right to report hazardous working conditions and assist mine operators in compliance and implementation of best practices.

According to MSHA, thousands of miners per year are exposed to respirable crystalline silica during common mining activities such as cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone and rock. Without proper protection and engineering controls in place, the agency stresses that miners face increased risks for serious, potentially fatal illnesses such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or black lung, and its more severe form, progressive massive fibrosis, as well as silicosis, lung and other cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease.

MSHA’s new initiative will include spot inspections of coal and metal and nonmetal mines with histories of repeated silica overexposures and silica sampling efforts focused on activities where miners are at high risk for silica exposures. Mines with previous citations for exposing workers to silica dust levels over the current permissible exposure limit of 100 micrograms will also face increased oversight, the agency says. MSHA’s webpage for its silica enforcement initiative further outlines the program’s components within the categories of inspections, sampling, compliance assistance, and miners’ rights.

MSHA’s press release explains that the agency is working to develop an improved silica standard for the mining industry. “Our agency is working hard and is committed to issuing a silica rule that will enhance health protections for all miners,” said Chris Williamson, the assistant secretary for mine safety and health. “The enforcement initiative…is a step we can take now while we continue the rulemaking process toward the development of an improved mandatory health standard.”

Related: Read “Engineering Controls for Respirable Crystalline Silica Hazards,” the cover article for the April 2022 Synergist, to learn about how NIOSH is investigating effective respirable crystalline silica controls. A previous article published in the June/July 2021 issue of the magazine describes the AIHA Mining Working Group’s role in the development of ISO 23875, a standard for mining that specifies performance and design requirements for air quality control systems for operator enclosures and their monitoring devices.