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Workplace Safety and Health News Alert

MSHA Launches New Safety Initiative Targeting Respirable Silica

August 10, 2022

By: Ryan Combs and William Lewis

On June 8, 2022, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) launched the “Silica Enforcement Initiative” to better protect miners from health hazards related to repeated over-exposure to respirable crystalline silica (silica dust).[1] The new program focuses on four areas for improvement: mine inspections, silica sampling, compliance assistance for mines, and the reinforcement of on-site best practices for miners.[2] With this initiative, MSHA’s goal is to limit miners’ exposure to silica dust at coal and metal and nonmetal (MNM) mines.

First, for mine inspections, spot inspections will be conducted at coal and MNM mines with a history of repeated silica overexposures, per section 103(i) of the Mine Act. These inspections may be conducted as often as every 15-days. If overexposure levels are over 100 micrograms per cubic meter, MNM mines must abate within a designated period of time or risk MSHA issuance of a 104(b) withdrawal order. For coal mines, MSHA District Managers will review ventilation and roof control plans for extended cuts greater than 20 foot in length. In these plans, MSHA may require operators to specify the number of miners working downwind of the continuous mining machine and the number of extended cuts miners will work downwind. MSHA District Managers will then give final approval to ensure that the plans appropriately address MSHA silica overexposure concerns at the site.

Second, for silica sampling at mines, MSHA will collect respirable dust samples from occupations and site locations known to have a high risk of silica overexposure. Sampling for MNM mines will include a focus on miners involved in overburden removal. Sampling for coal mines will include a focus on shaft and slope construction, and may also focus on miners working on extended cuts and developing crosscuts. The mining activities listed, although not exhaustive, are all activities that MSHA has identified as potentially posing significant risks of high exposure to respirable silica dust.

 Third, for compliance assistance, the MSHA will ramp up efforts to provide assistance to mine operators, unions, MSHA grantees, and related community organizations through the use of stakeholder calls, and by publishing information to the agency's website. Additionally, Educational Field and Small Mine Services (EFSMS) staff will distribute materials related to this initiative, and compliance assistance in general, through their current outreach efforts.

Lastly, for best practices and miners’ rights, MSHA has stated that it will reinvigorate efforts to educate miners about their protections against workplace retaliation, and their right to make complaints about hazardous job site conditions. In this effort, the MSHA will try to ensure that miners know that they can (1) identify hazardous conditions and refuse unsafe work without retaliation, (2) obtain immediate MSHA inspections if they believe health or safety hazards exist, and (3) accompany MSHA inspectors onsite. Additional information related to this prong of the initiative will be posted on the agency’s website.

[1] United States Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, US Department of Labor takes action to reduce miners’ exposure to silica dust as work continues on an improved health standard, MSHA.gov (June 8, 2022), https://www.msha.gov/news-media/press-releases/2022/06/08/us-department-labor-takes-action-reduce-miners%E2%80%99-exposure-silica.

[2] United States Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, Silica Enforcement Initiative, MSHA.gov (June 8, 2022), https://www.msha.gov/news-media/special-initiatives/2022/06/08/silica-enforcement-initiative.


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