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Reforms rolling out to protect miners from occupational disease


North Carolina workers may have heard of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration but may not be familiar with the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Tasked with monitoring mine safety, they try to prevent injuries and workplace disease resulting from mining. With much of the easy to reach coal in the country depleted, miners now have to cut into more rock to get to the remaining coal seams. This means there is potentially more exposure to toxic material that can cause lung diseases, including black lung.

Black lung decreased in the 1970s, but there has been a recent resurgence of the lung disease in some areas where coal is mined. After a mining disaster took the lives of 29 people 2010, autopsies revealed that of the 24 miners whose lungs could be examined, 17 had black lung and five of those workers had been working in mines for less than ten years.

The Labor Department has implemented new policies regarding coal dust regulations in an effort to combat black lung. Lowering the dust level should force operators to provide better ventilation in mines and protect workers from dusty air. A personal dust monitor is also mandated - this device will monitor the mine's dust level in real time and give them feedback eventually. Since operators will no longer have to provide a random sample every two months, so the opportunities for falsifying dust samples should decrease.

Despite these reforms, experts still claim mine safety will remain in the hands of coal mine operators. It is an employer's responsibility to create a safe working environment for their workers, regardless of the industry in which they work. When an employer fails to perform this duty due to negligence, an injured worker may be able to file a workers' compensation claim. The claim not only makes funds available to cover medical expenses but also highlights a faulty policy so it can be rectified.

Source: Huffington Post, "The war on coal miners: How companies hide the threat of black lung from watchdogs and workers," Dave Jamieson, May 29, 2014

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