US Department of Labor takes action to reduce miners’ exposure to silica dust as work continues on an improved health standard

First published by MSHA

MSHA launched unprecedented effort to protect miners
from serious illnesses such as black lung disease, silicosis

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has launched a new enforcement initiative to better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards resulting from repeated overexposure to respirable crystalline silica. MSHA reports silica dust affects thousands of miners each year and, without adequate protection, miners face risks of serious illnesses, many of which can be fatal.

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth’s crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete and mortar contain crystalline silica. Respirable crystalline silica – minute particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary beach sand – becomes airborne during cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone and rock.

Without proper protections and engineering controls in place, miners can be exposed to dangerous levels of crystalline silica particles, which increases their risk of developing serious silica-related diseases. These conditions include incurable lung diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly referred to as “black lung;” progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung; silicosis; lung and other cancers; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and kidney disease.

“Simply put, protecting miners from unhealthy levels of silica cannot wait,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “We are committed to using every tool in MSHA’s toolbox to protect miners from developing debilitating and deadly lung diseases that are entirely preventable. We have seen too many miners carrying oxygen tanks and struggling to breathe just to take a few steps or do the simplest of tasks after having their lungs destroyed by toxic levels of respirable dust.”

“Our agency is working hard and is committed to issuing a silica rule that will enhance health protections for all miners. The enforcement initiative that we are announcing today is a step we can take now while we continue the rulemaking process toward the development of an improved mandatory health standard,” Williamson added.

As part of the program, MSHA will conduct silica dust-related mine inspections and expand silica sampling at mines, while providing mine operators with compliance assistance and best practices to limit miners’ exposure to silica dust.

Specifically, the silica enforcement initiative will include:

  • Spot inspections at coal and metal nonmetal mines with a history of repeated silica overexposures to closely monitor and evaluate health and safety conditions.
  • Increased oversight and enforcement of known silica hazards at mines with previous citations for exposing miners to silica dust levels over the existing permissible exposure limit of 100 micrograms. For metal and nonmetal mines where the operator has not timely abated hazards, MSHA will issue a 104(b) withdrawal order until the silica overexposure hazard has been abated. For coal mines, MSHA will encourage changes to dust control and ventilation plans to address known health hazards.
  • Expanded silica sampling at metal and nonmetal mines to ensure inspectors’ samples represent the mines, commodities, and occupations known to have the highest risk for overexposure.
  • A focus on sampling during periods of the mining process that present the highest risk of silica exposure for miners. For coal mines, those processes include shaft and slope sinking, extended cuts and developing crosscuts, while metal and nonmetal sampling will focus on miners working to remove overburden.
  • Reminding miners about their rights to report hazardous health conditions, including any attempt to tamper with the sampling process.

In addition, Educational Field and Small Mine Services staff will provide compliance assistance and outreach to mine operators, unions and other mining community organizations to promote and advance protections for miners.

The recently launched MSHA initiative is intended to take immediate action to reduce the risks of silica dust exposure as the department’s development of a mining industry standard continues.

Silica Enforcement Initiative 


McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

Research review strengthens link between sarcoidosis, workplace exposures

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

Toronto — Findings over the past decade – including the results of case studies in the past two to three years – have strengthened the link between the lung disease sarcoidosis and on-the-job exposures to, most notably, silica and silicates, dust from the World Trade Center, and metals, according to a recent research review.

Conducted by a pair of Canadian researchers, the review of epidemiologic studies includes a Swedish study of nearly 11,000 workers that showed respirable crystalline silica exposure among concrete workers, miners, casters, masons, and ceramic and glass manufacturers led to an increased risk of sarcoidosis, described by the National Institutes of Health as “an inflammatory disease characterized by the development and growth of tiny lumps of cells called granulomas,” which, if they clump together in an organ, “can lead to permanent scarring or thickening of the organ tissue.”

A nearly twofold disease risk increase was discovered in a study of almost 298,000 Swedish construction workers with medium to high silica exposure. Among Swedish iron foundry workers with high exposure to silica, researchers observed a higher risk for both sarcoidosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

A study of New York City firefighters showed that cases of a sarcoid-like pulmonary disease occurred at a rate of 12.9 cases per 100,000 workers from 1985 to 1998. In the 12 months after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, that rate rose to 86 cases per 100,000 workers.

Although the two researchers note that not all sarcoidosis cases have an identified cause, recognizing occupational causes is important. When the cause of the disease is work-related, the duo says its recognition is critical “to enable effective treatment through the removal of the affected worker from exposure and to inform intervention aimed at primary prevention.”

The researchers also note that because of a more firm link to on-the-job exposures, the practice of assigning sarcoidosis cases as idiopathic by default should be discontinued.

The study was published online June 5 in the journal CHEST.


McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

Michigan OSHA launches emphasis program on silica

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.
silica.jpg

Lansing, MI — Michigan OSHA intends to conduct inspections at jobsites where workers are most likely to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica, as part of the agency’s recently launched state emphasis program aimed at reducing exposure to silica and preventing silicosis.

Silica is a carcinogen found in sand, stone and artificial stone. MIOSHA’s 12-month emphasis program, announced in the agency’s Fall 2020 online newsletter, includes outreach to affected industries to consult, educate and train employers and the public about the dangers of silica.

MIOSHA has compiled a list of industries with historically high silica exposures and a prevalence of silicosis cases. Establishments on the list could get an unannounced investigation visit to ensure compliance with federal and MIOSHA standards.

The agency has a goal of completing 88 inspections – 2% of the total number of inspections conducted in fiscal year 2019. This matches the goal set by federal OSHA for each of its regions in its national emphasis program, announced Feb. 4.

The agency is offering consultative audits to help establishments identify silica hazards. The audits will help employers develop and implement a comprehensive safety and health system as well as silica exposure monitoring.

Federal OSHA notes that 2.3 million workers nationwide are exposed to silica. When inhaled, these tiny particles – the product of cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, blocks and mortar – increase the risk of serious silica-related diseases such as silicosis, an incurable lung disease. Workers exposed to silica are also at risk for kidney disease, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

Please contact us today at 888-758-4757 to learn how we can provide mine safety training and consulting for your business.

New OSHA directive details enforcement of silica standards

sh0218silica.jpg

Image: simazoran/iStockphoto

Washington — Seeking “uniformity” in the enforcement of its silica standards, OSHA has published an instructional directive for its compliance safety and health officers.

Dated June 25, the directive outlines inspection procedures for addressing respirable crystalline silica exposures in general industry, maritime and construction. The directive guides OSHA inspectors on the enforcement of the silica standards’ requirements, which include:

  • Methods of compliance
  • Exposure assessments
  • Table 1 tasks and specified exposure control methods
  • Housekeeping
  • Communication of hazards
  • Respiratory protection
  • Regulated areas
  • Recordkeeping
  • Employee information and training
  • Medical surveillance

“The directive also provides clarity on major topics, such as alternative exposure control methods when a construction employer does not fully and properly implement Table 1, variability in sampling, multiemployer situations, and temporary workers,” a June 26 agency press release states.

The standards call for a permissible exposure limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour time-weighted average. As of June 23, general industry and maritime employers must offer medical surveillance to all employees who are exposed to the silica standard’s “action level” of 25 micrograms per cubic meter for 30 or more days a year.

Hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry have until June 23, 2021, to comply with OSHA requirements for the standard’s engineering controls.

Union leaders call for new MSHA silica standard

Image: NIOSH

Washington — Alarmed by a recent spike in cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, a deadly but preventable condition commonly known as black lung, union presidents Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers of America and Leo Gerard of United Steelworkers have sent a letter to Mine Safety and Health Administration leader David Zatezalo requesting stricter regulation of respirable silica dust.

In the letter, dated June 19, Roberts and Gerard cite extensive research documenting the impact of silica dust exposure on the resurgence of black lung. One study, released by the University of Illinois at Chicago in May 2018, found that more than 4,600 coal miners have developed the most severe form of black lung disease since 1970, with almost half the cases emerging after 2000.

Continue Reading»