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MSHA leader touts ‘significance’ of proposed silica rule’s appearance on regulatory agenda

Christopher Williamson
Photo: US Department of Labor

Arlington, VA — The inclusion of a long-awaited Mine Safety and Health Administration proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica in the Department of Labor’s Fall 2022 regulatory agenda represents a milestone for which MSHA administrator Chris Williamson wants to “underscore the significance.”

Speaking during a Jan. 25 conference call for agency stakeholders, Williamson spoke of the long path the proposal has taken since first appearing in the Spring 1998 regulatory agenda. MSHA forecasted a proposed rule on silica would be in place in December 1998, Williamson noted.

The latest agenda, issued on Jan. 4 by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, lists April as a target date for publication of a proposed rule.

Although the interagency review process is “out of our hands,” Williamson said, he remains optimistic about the advancement of the proposal. “We look forward to, once we get the proposed rule out, receiving and reviewing the substantive, thoughtful comments that we know that we’ll get from this group and others.”

OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust annually.

During the call, MSHA Chief of Health Gregory Meikle listed the mining occupations most often overexposed to silica last year. For coal mines, these included machine operators, highwall drill operators and roof bolter operators. Stone cutters, crusher operators, and baggers were the most overexposed at metal and nonmetal mines.

Among MSHA’s numerous best practices for dust control:
At coal mines:

  • Water spray systems at the cutting drum or boom
  • Increased face ventilation
  • Enclosed cab filtration systems
  • Equipment maintenance and cab cleaning

At metal and nonmetal mines:

  • Wet cutting when possible
  • Local exhaust ventilation systems at the workstation and/or area
  • Implementation of properly designed wet spray systems

Recent research from the University of Illinois Chicago suggests the lung tissue of contemporary coal miners contains higher levels of respirable crystalline silica dust than counterparts of previous generations – which may explain a surge in cases of progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung disease.

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