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MSHA’s proposed rule on silica has ‘shortcomings,’ lawmakers say

Photo: Ron Levine/iStockphoto

Washington — A Mine Safety and Health Administration proposed rule intended to reduce worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica “does not demand enough from operators,” Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Alma Adams (D-NC) claim.

Scott is ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, while Adams chairs the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee. In a letter dated Sept. 11 and addressed to acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, they write that although the proposed rule is sound, it can be improved to “attain the maximum protection attainable for miner health.”

Workers can inhale silica dust during operations such as mining, cutting, sawing, drilling or crushing materials including rock and stone. Crystalline silica can damage lung tissue and lead to black lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or incurable silicosis. OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust annually.

The proposed rule, published July 13, would lower the permissible exposure limit for silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour time-weighted average. The proposed PEL is half the current limit and matches the PEL OSHA established in 2016.

Scott and Adams, however, write that MSHA must strengthen numerous provisions in the proposal to adequately:

  • Block mine operators from evading their responsibility to reduce and address silica exposure.
  • Prevent operators from cheating on silica exposure monitoring.
  • Guard against conflicts of interest with operator-funded science.
  • Permit miners to monitor hazardous silica exposure and protect their health.
  • Require operators to report high silica exposure levels to miners, MSHA and the public.

“The proposed rule must remedy these shortcomings by demanding more from operators to keep mines safe, closing loopholes that unscrupulous operators and their hired experts can use to avoid meaningful compliance, empowering workers, and leveraging the power of information,” the letter states.

Comments on the proposal initially were due Aug. 28, before an extension moved the deadline to Sept. 11.

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