MSHA Silica Rule Draws Ire of Industry

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued a final rule to “better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards associated with exposure to respirable crystalline silica, also known as silica dust or quartz dust.”

The final rule lowers the permissible exposure limit of respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cu. meter of air for a full-shift exposure, calculated as an eight-hour time-weighted average.

“Since I came to the Department of Labor, I have asked my team to unleash their full power to protect working people, to use all the tools we have not just to conduct inspections and issue citations but to keep workers truly safe and make sure workers are heard,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “Today, we are doing just that.”

But not everyone sees it that way.

“Though this final rule extended the compliance date to two years, we are greatly disappointed that our input during the comment period was disregarded, and this rule does not incorporate provisions of the recently adopted OSHA silica standard,” said National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association President and CEO Michael Johnson. “Our members now have the challenge of complying with the highly prescriptive MSHA silica standard while also complying with the OSHA requirements at many sites. We will continue working with our aggregate members to advance the cause of worker health and safety and assist members in helping them understand and comply with the new MSHA rules.  We will continue to vocalize our concerns about necessary improvements to this rule.”

Rock Products legal columnist Brian Hendrix stated, “The final rule is, to use a technical, legal term of art, a mess.  It is the work of an agency that refuses to listen, does not or cannot comprehend or simply refuses to genuinely engage with stakeholders.  Key aspects of the rule lack scientific support and are contrary to sound industrial hygiene practice. Compliance with certain requirements of the rule will not be technologically or economically feasible.  The rule will consume significantly greater resources than MSHA claims, impose a tremendous, unnecessary burden on mine operators and miners and produce a raft of contentious enforcement disputes and litigation. MSHA itself is not prepared to enforce the rule.      

“At root, this rule was originally aimed at addressing an increase in a type of severe black lung disease in certain underground coal mines in specific areas of the country,” Hendrix continued. “MSHA knows that this is attributable to exposure to both coal dust and respirable silica in combination and well above MSHA’s prior PEL.  Miners in metal/non-metal mines who haven’t worked in coal do not develop CWP or PMF.  In other words, the problem the rule aims to address is simply not present at more than 90% of the mines in this country.  And, at the handful of underground coal mines where there is a real problem, this rule won’t solve it.  

“The Acting Secretary of Labor claims that the rule will save more than a thousand lives and prevent severe illness for thousands more,” Hendrix concluded.  “It won’t, not now or half a century from now. Indeed, MSHA freely admits that ‘the first group of miners that will experience the avoided lifetime deaths and illnesses . . . is the population living 60 years after the start of implementation of the final rule.’ In other words, this group will only contain miners exclusively exposed under the final rule for the duration of their working lives.”

Related posts