MSHA final rule on respirable crystalline silica under White House review

Washington — A long-anticipated Mine Safety and Health Administration final rule intended to lower miners’ exposure to silica has been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review.

Advancing a rule to OMB, which is under the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is one of the final steps in the regulatory process.

The rule would lower the PEL for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air – half the current limit – over an 8-hour time-weighted average. It also would increase silica sampling and enforcement at metal and nonmetal mines.

Workers can inhale silica dust during mining and other operations, including cutting, sawing, drilling or crushing materials such as 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 rule has been under OMB review since Jan. 12. A proposal was published on July 13.

“The purpose of this … rule is simple – to better protect miners from exposure to silica so they do not have to suffer from entirely preventable debilitating and deadly occupational illnesses,” MSHA head Chris Williamson says on an agency webpage for silica rulemaking. “Silica overexposures have a real-life impact on a miner’s health.”

During a Jan. 25, 2023, conference call with MSHA stakeholders, Williamson discussed the path the rulemaking has taken since first appearing in the Spring 1998 regulatory agenda. The agency at that time forecasted a proposed silica rule would be in place in December 1998, he said.


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Original article published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

Look at your training, MSHA tells mine operators at close of 2023

Christopher Williamson
Photo: US Department of Labor

Arlington, VA — Miner inexperience contributed significantly to what Mine Safety and Health Administration head Chris Williamson called an “unacceptable trend” of industry deaths in 2023.

MSHA recorded 40 miner deaths last year, the highest total in the past nine years. Around 3 out of 5 of the miners had spent less than two years at the mine, and half had less than 10 years of total mining experience.

The agency is calling on mine operators to reexamine their training – while acknowledging that federal training regulations carry specific minimal time frames.

“Does that mean the miner is adequately trained and fully ready to go in all cases at all times? Maybe, maybe not,” MSHA’s Brian Goepfert said during a Dec. 6 conference call for industry stakeholders.

“It’s an individual thing,” continued Goepfert, who is administrator of mine safety and health enforcement at the agency. “Miners of different generations learn by different means, and that’s where you really have to take a deep dive into each individual training plan at your mine and see if it’s effective.

“Is the message getting to the miner? Do they understand it? And can they demonstrate they understand it? That’s the key to training.”

MSHA reported 30 miner fatalities in 2022 after recording 38 in 2021, ending a six-year run in which fewer than 30 miners died on the job. At the time of the call, 14 of the 38 fatalities recorded by MSHA in 2023 were related to machinery, and 10 were attributed to powered haulage.

“This year, the mining industry has experienced a troubling increase in fatal mining accidents,” Williamson said. “As I explained in an open letter to the mining community earlier this year, MSHA is going to continue to use all its tools to combat this unacceptable trend.”

Williamson also addressed MSHA efforts to advance a long-awaited rule that would lower the agency’s permissible exposure limit to respirable crystalline silica.

Published Dec. 6, the Department of Labor’s Fall 2023 regulatory agenda indicated the rule has moved to the final stage from the proposed rule stage.

The rule would lower the permissible exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air – half the current limit – over an 8-hour time-weighted average. It also would increase silica sampling and enforcement at mines.

During the call, Williamson thanked people who provided comments during the proposed rule stage and attended any of MSHA’s three public hearings on the rule.

“At the end of the day – as the agency has said in the proposed rule and as I’ve said – the existing standards are not adequately protecting miners from silica,” Williamson said, “and we need to move forward on putting in place a more protective standard.”


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Original article published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

California silica ETS takes effect December 29

Comes in response to silicosis epidemic among artificial stone fabrication workers

Photo: CDC

California issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) on respirable crystalline silica that goes into effect December 29, 2023. The ETS comes in response to a silicosis epidemic among artificial stone fabrication workers in California and allows Cal/OSHA to quickly shut down an operation if work violates the ETS and endangers employees’ health.

It applies to general industry workers occupationally exposed to silica; it does not apply to construction, agricultural operations, or exposures that result from the processing of sorptive clays.

The ETS includes revisions to protect workers in high-exposure tasks such as grinding, cutting, polishing, and cleanup of artificial stone and natural stone containing more than 10 percent crystalline silica. Information published by Cal/OSHA defines artificial stone as “any reconstituted, artificial, synthetic, composite, engineered, or manufactured stone, porcelain, or quartz typically within a binding material. It contains more than 90 percent crystalline silica.”

The ETS makes changes to California Code of Regulations, Title 8, section 5204. Among the revisions are:

  • Additional employee exposure control precautions,
  • Expansion of the written exposure control plan,
  • Employee communication and training,
  • Respirator protection,
  • Employee exposure monitoring, and
  • Reporting silicosis and cancer cases.

Employers must implement section 5204, including all ETS requirements, in their workplaces if the work their employees perform meets the scope and application of that standard.


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Original article published by J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

OSHA announces enforcement, compliance initiative to protect workers from silica exposure in engineered stone fabrication, installation

OSHA supplements current efforts to address serious workplace danger

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor announced that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration today launched a new initiative focused on enhancing enforcement and providing compliance assistance to protect workers in the engineered stone fabrication and installation industries.

“Many workers in the engineering stone industry are experiencing illnesses so severe that they’re unable to breathe – much less work a full shift – because of their exposure to silica dust,” explained Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “Among them is a 27-year-old worker in California who went to an emergency room with shortness of breath in 2022 and whose lung biopsy later revealed he had silicosis. Since then, he has been on an oxygen tank and unable to support his wife and three young children financially.”

Supplementing OSHA’s current National Emphasis Program for Respirable Crystalline Silica, this initiative will focus enforcement efforts on industry employers to make sure they’re following required safety standards and providing workers with the protections required to keep them healthy. It establishes procedures for prioritizing federal OSHA inspections to identify and ensure prompt abatement of hazards in covered industries where workers face exposure to high levels of silica dust.

OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health identify silica dust exposure as a health hazard for workers involved in manufacturing, finishing and installing natural and manufactured stone, which includes the man-made, engineered artificial or cultured types.

When inhaled, very small crystalline silica particles expose workers to the risk of silicosis, an incurable, progressively disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease. Unsafe silica dust exposure can also lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or kidney disease.

Industries subject to the prioritized programmed inspections include those engaged in Cut Stone and Stone Product Manufacturing as well as Brick, Stone and Related Construction Material Merchant Wholesalers. Outreach efforts will continue to include additional industries that may work with engineered stone.

A July 2023 study released by the American Medical Association underscores the dangers for workers in these industries. The “Silicosis Among Immigrant Engineered Stone Countertop Fabrication Workers in California” study cited 52 male patients diagnosed with silicosis caused by occupational exposure to respirable silica dust from engineered stone. Of these patients, 20 suffered progressive massive fibrosis, 11 needed lung transplants and 10 died due to their exposures.

As part of the initiative, OSHA is sending affected employers and stakeholders information on the initiative, including fact sheets on dust control methods and safer work practices for engineered stone manufacturing, finishing and installation operations.

Learn more about crystalline silica.


McCraren Compliance offers a full range of safety and health training and consulting services. Plus we can help you incorporate well-being into your traditional systems in order to support the Total Worker Health of your workforce.

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Original article published by OSHA

US Department of Labor announces proposed rule to reduce silica dust exposure, better protect miners’ health

Original article published by MSHA

Unhealthy levels of silica dust linked to serious workplace illnesses

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a proposal by its Mine Safety and Health Administration to amend current federal standards to better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards related to exposure to respirable crystalline silica, or silica dust. The proposed rule change will ensure miners have at least the same level of protections as workers in other industries.

Unhealthy levels of silica, a carcinogen, and exposures over time cause severe illnesses, including silicosis; progressive massive fibrosis; non-malignant respiratory disease, such as emphysema; kidney disease; and lung cancer. Exposure to mixed coal mine dust that contains respirable crystalline silica can lead to the development of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease; multi-dust pneumoconiosis; and progressive massive fibrosis.

The proposed rule would require mine operators to maintain miners’ Permissible Exposure Limit to respirable crystalline silica at or below 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air for a full shift exposure, calculated as an 8-hour time weighted average. If a miner’s exposure exceeds the limit, the proposed rule would require operators to take immediate corrective actions to come into compliance.

“The purpose of this proposed rule is simple: prevent more miners from suffering from debilitating and deadly occupational illnesses by reducing their exposure to silica dust. Silica overexposures have a real-life impact on a miner’s health,” explained Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “Miners like a crusher operator at a California sand and gravel mine or a roof bolter in a West Virginia coal mine should never be forced to choose between preserving their health and providing for themselves and their families. This proposed rule furthers the Mine Act’s clear instruction to prioritize miners’ health.”

In addition to reducing the existing exposure limit, the proposal also includes other requirements to protect miners’ health — such as exposure sampling — and medical surveillance at no cost for metal and nonmetal miners. It would also replace existing outdated requirements for respiratory protection with a standard that reflects the latest advances in respiratory protection technologies and practices.

Following the proposed rule’s publication in the Federal Register, MSHA will welcome public comments and announce dates for upcoming public hearings in Arlington, Virginia, and Denver, Colorado. The hearings will be open for in-person or online participation.


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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.”


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

Original article published by Safety+Health

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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MSHA ‘actively working’ on a proposed rule on silica, Williamson says

Original article published by Safety + Health
Christopher-Williamson.jpg
Photo: US Department of Labor

Arlington, VA — The Mine Safety and Health Administration is “actively working” toward publishing a proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica, agency administrator Chris Williamson said Oct. 20.

The Department of Labor’s Spring 2022 regulatory agenda – published in June – showed MSHA’s intent to publish in September a notice of proposed rulemaking on silica. During a conference call for agency stakeholders, Williamson didn’t offer an updated timetable during the call but said the rule “is one of the top priorities” at the agency.

“Right now in this country, there’s only one worker population that does not have a certain level of protection when it comes to silica, and that is miners. Right now, under our existing standards, the permissible exposure limit (100 micrograms per cubic meter of air) is double what every other worker in this country has. So I just want to put that out there, that people know that’s the reality. We’re working very hard on an improved health standard that we think will make a difference and will definitely better protect miners.”

During the call, MSHA Chief of Health Gregory Meikle cited NIOSH-supported data that contends silica dust can be up to 20 times more toxic than other dusts. Meikle called on stakeholders to tailor existing best practices toward their individual mines and mine activities.

“Some of the levels we’re seeing on overexposures, we’ve got to get proactive if we’re going to protect miners,” Meikle said.


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Mine workers and breathing problems

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

East Lansing, MI — A recent study of workers at sand, gravel and stone mines in Michigan found a higher number of doctor visits for shortness of breath compared with workers in other production industries.

Researchers at Michigan State University examined lung disease as well as exposure to silica, various allergens and other irritants among more than 1,200 surface mine workers from around the state. They asked the workers, who each had at least 15 years of experience, to complete a questionnaire and provided them with free chest X-rays and breathing tests.

Results showed “an increased prevalence of seeing a doctor for shortness of breath, possible work-related asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” according to an MSU press release. In the release, lead study author Hailey TenHarmsel, a research assistant in the MSU College of Human Medicine, said the nature of surface mining leaves workers vulnerable to various exposure risks.

Doug Needham is executive director of the Michigan Aggregates Association, which represents 85% of aggregate mining operators in Michigan. “We are making sure the health and safety of the work itself and companies doing air monitoring aren’t exposed to anything,” Needham said. “We put in air monitors on their chest throughout a normal eight-hour day, and at the end of the day, they turn them in and get tested to ensure they weren’t exposed to any limits that will cause them harm.”

The study was published online in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.


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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.


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