Lawmakers reintroduce legislation on black lung benefits for miners

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Washington — Democratic lawmakers have renewed their push to ease access to health care and other benefits for coal miners who have black lung disease.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) reintroduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act (H.R. 6461 and S. 3304) in November. Black lung is another name for coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – a deadly condition caused by exposure to respirable coal mine dust.

The legislation would revise the Department of Labor’s Black Lung Program, which provides benefits to miners and eligible survivors or dependents, by:

  • Requiring full disclosure of medical information related to a claim, regardless of whether the information is considered evidence.
  • Allowing more miners to receive legal assistance.
  • Allowing miners or their survivors to reopen cases previously denied because of medical interpretations that have since been discredited.
  • Adjusting black lung benefits to reflect cost-of-living increases.

Black lung disease affects around 1 out of 6 coal workers, the American Lung Association says, and cases remain on the rise.

Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), a co-sponsor of the House bill, claims in a press release that the “current system is deeply flawed and unjust, and the workers suffering from this terrible disease deserve better.”

She continues: “We are seeing significant gaps in protections for coal workers with black lung disease that are seeking benefits. Most workers do not have access to the legal and medical support they need to challenge coal companies and too often their claims are denied under false pretenses. Multiple congressional hearings have shed light on this harrowing reality.”

Casey adds in a separate release, “This bill will ensure that every coal miner that is suffering from black lung disease receives the benefits they are entitled to.”

Cartwright introduced a similar bill in December of last year.

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Original article published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

NIOSH black lung screening program takes to the road

Original article published by Safety+Health

Photo by NIOSH

Washington — In an effort to detect cases of black lung disease, NIOSH will offer free, confidential health screenings for current and former coal miners in Indiana and Texas.

Black lung is another name for coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, a deadly condition caused by exposure to respirable coal mine dust. Multiple studies show that cases are on the rise.

As part of the agency’s Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program, the NIOSH mobile testing unit is scheduled to conduct screenings April 17-20 in Carlisle, IN. After that, the unit will visit Longview, TX, on April 24-25, followed by a stop in Kosse, TX, on April 26-28. The series of screenings concludes with stops in the Texas towns of Jourdanton (May 1) and Christine (May 2-4).

Screenings last about 30 minutes and include:

  • Work history and respiratory questionnaires
  • Chest X-rays
  • Blood pressure screening
  • Lung function testing (spirometry)

“If black lung is caught early, steps can be taken to help prevent it from progressing to the most serious forms of the disease,” NIOSH Director John Howard said in a press release. “The NIOSH mobile unit provides underground, surface and contract miners with confidential screenings that can support next steps in reducing their exposure to coal dust.”

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.

Miners and lung disease: Which states have the worst death rates?

Original article published by Safety+Health

Chicago — Coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia may be more than eight times more likely than the general public to die from black lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

That’s according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago and NIOSH. The researchers reviewed cause-of-death data from the National Death Index on nearly 236,000 coal miners who died between 1979 and 2017 and had participated in either the NIOSH Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program or the Department of Labor’s Federal Black Lung Program.

NIOSH blog post states that although all coal miners have “significantly increased odds of death” from black lung – also known as coal worker’s pneumoconiosis – as well as COPD and lung cancer, another recent study of regulatory dust monitoring data shows that respirable dust containing silica “was significantly higher” in central Appalachia than the rest of the country.

The researchers note that coal miners also face potential exposure to known carcinogens including diesel exhaust, silica, asbestos and radon. Further, the researchers found that progressive massive fibrosis – the most severe form of black lung disease and which is caused by dust inhalation – is more common among younger miners.

“These findings underscore the importance of preventing chronic lower respiratory diseases like COPD caused by respirable coal mine dust and other factors in coal miners,” NIOSH says.

Issued in January, the Department of Labor’s Fall 2022 regulatory agenda includes a long-awaited Mine Safety and Health Administration proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica. The agenda lists April as a target date for publication of the proposed rule.

Responding to the study findings in a press release, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts urges MSHA to swiftly respond once the proposed rule is introduced.

“Time is of the essence here,” Roberts said. “Every day that goes by without action is another day our nation’s coal miners are exposed to deadly silica dust.”

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.

Bill would restore increased tax rate on coal to fund black lung disability benefits

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

Washington — Proposed legislation would create funding for health care and other benefits for coal miners who have black lung disease by extending, for 10 years, a recently expired excise tax rate increase on coal production.

Black lung is another name for coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – a deadly condition caused by exposure to respirable coal mine dust.

The original increase excise tax rate, which supports the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, expired Dec. 31. H.R. 6462, introduced Jan. 20 by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Alma Adams (D-NC), would restore it. Although mine operators are generally responsible for paying black lung benefits, the fund helps finance benefits for miners and eligible survivors or dependents when no responsible mine operator is identifiable or the operator is out of business.

Effective Jan. 1, the tax rate fell to 50 cents a ton on underground coal and 25 cents a ton on surface coal – a 55% reduction from the previous rates of $1.10 and 55 cents, respectively. The fund already stands about $5 billion in debt, according to a press release from the House Education and Labor Committee, of which Scott is chair.

The release also cites a May 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office that concluded failure to extend the previous tax rate will swell the fund’s debt to roughly $15 billion by 2050.

“Long-term funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is a necessity,” Cecil Roberts, president of United Mine Workers of America International, said in the release. “Miners are suffering from [black lung] because they dedicated their lives to providing this nation with electricity and steel. The least Congress could do is ensure that the benefits they depend on to survive will always be there.”

In a November 2020 report, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General notes that more than three times as many coal miners were identified as having black lung disease from 2010 to 2014 compared with 1995 to 1999.

“With the number of black lung cases rapidly increasing, Congress must take action to secure health care and benefits for disabled miners,” Adams said in the release. “We can’t allow the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund to sink deeper into debt.”

In September, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced similar legislation (S. 2810). The bill hasn’t advanced past the Senate.

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.

COVID-19 pandemic: Miners union calls for emergency MSHA standard

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Triangle, VA — Citing concerns over the adjacent nature of mining work and the growing prevalence of respiratory illness in the industry, the United Mine Workers of America is calling on the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency standard to help safeguard mine workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a March 24 letter sent via email to MSHA administrator David Zatezalo, UMWA President Cecil Roberts contends miners are “one of the most vulnerable populations” to the potentially deadly respiratory disease. Many workers, he writes, suffer from underlying health conditions such as heart disease, compromised immune systems and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – a deadly but preventable condition commonly known as black lung disease. According to NIOSH, rates of black lung disease have more than doubled over the past 15 years.

Roberts writes that the effects of these conditions “will greatly exacerbate” the symptoms of COVID-19, which include a fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The uneasiness grows for miners who reside in rural areas with limited access to health care.

“Our miners work in close proximity to one another from the time they arrive at the mine site,” the letter states. “They get dressed, travel down the elevator together, ride in the same mantrip, work in confined spaces, breathe the same air, operate the same equipment and use the same shower facilities.”

Roberts calls on MSHA to exercise its authority and require mine operators to:

  • Provide access to N95 respirators
  • Implement policies and procedures for disinfecting equipment between shifts and when changing operators
  • Offer extra personal protective equipment for pulling cables, touching shared equipment and handling shared materials
  • Provide disinfectant strategies for bathhouses and gathering places

­UMWA outlines several precautionary measures various mine operators already have taken:

  • Offering additional disinfection between shifts in toilet, sink, shower and boot wash areas, as well as near bulletin boards and lunch spaces
  • Disinfecting all cap lamps, detectors, radios and any other equipment used by miners, after shifts and before other miners are able to use them
  • Providing miners with disinfecting wipes and spray
  • Disinfecting all equipment before use
  • Providing additional nitrile medical gloves for miners to wear in addition to their required work gloves
  • Limiting the number of miners traveling on elevators and mantrips
  • Suspending the use of hand scanners

However, the letter argues that these practices alone won’t keep miners safe.

“UMWA stands ready to work with MSHA, the mining industry and our members to find ways to protect miners in these unprecedented times,” Roberts writes. “Miners are a resilient people and have overcome many challenges throughout time. This will be yet another situation where we will overcome, protecting our miners, their families, their communities, and allow them to continue to provide these valuable resources when our nation needs them most.”

‘Faces of Black Lung II’: NIOSH releases follow-up video


Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Washington — Seated on a sofa and struggling to breathe – even with the assistance of oxygen – late Kentucky coal miner Peyton Mitchell, then 42, delivers a testimonial about his battle with black lung disease.

“It just really took a toll on me,” Mitchell says in a video released Jan. 21 by NIOSH. “All the activities I could do outside, I can’t do no more. I’m pretty well on oxygen 24/7 in the house. It’s just humid outside. You just can’t get out and do anything. I just can’t do anything no more.”

Mitchell died of black lung disease in September 2018 at the age of 43. The 20-minute video, Faces of Black Lung II – The Story Continues, was produced in his memory. The video is intended to raise awareness of the growing prevalence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – a deadly but preventable condition commonly known as black lung – especially among younger miners. Rates of black lung disease have more than doubled over the past 15 years, according to NIOSH.

A follow-up to the agency’s 2008 video, Faces of Black Lung, the new video also features remarks from former coal miners Mackie Branham Jr., 39, and Ray Bartley, 47.

“Black lung disease kills, and it’s once again on the rise, striking miners at much younger ages than ever before,” Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says in the video. “It used to be that we’d see miners dying from black lung disease in their 60s, long before their time. But now, we see miners dying from black lung in their 40s. Even people that don’t have respiratory symptoms can have black lung. Catching it early can allow you to take steps to keep it from progressing to severe lung disease.”

NIOSH reminds mine workers that free, confidential health screenings are available through the agency’s Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program. Miners are eligible to receive a chest X-ray, breathing test and symptom assessment once every five years at a clinic near their mine, Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Cdr. Cara Halldin, who helps lead CWHSP, says in the video. Additional screenings are offered via a NIOSH mobile testing unit.

Branham and Bartley, who along with Mitchell followed a family tradition of working in the mines, offer advice about the importance of early screening and detection.

“Just remember: Take care of yourself,” Branham says. “Because right now, I’ve got two 9-year-olds that I can’t play basketball with. I’ve got a boy I moved into college. I had to stop packing his clothes into his dorm. You can’t do what you used to.”

Adds Bartley: “Do I have any regrets working in the mines? No. I didn’t think I would get sick. My advice if you’re starting up … working in a mine: Stay in good air. Always be safe, work safe.”