While the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) continues to work on developing a new crystalline silica standard (that is expected to cut the exposure limit in half), the agency has decided to ramp up enforcement of operator silica compliance with the requirements that are already on the books. On June 8, 2022, MSHA announced in a news release that it had launched an enforcement initiative to conduct silica dust-related mine inspections and expand silica sampling at mines.
MSHA’s announcement specifically lays out the following elements of its new silica enforcement initiative:
- Spot inspections will occur at coal and metal nonmetal mines with histories of repeated silica overexposures.
- MSHA will conduct “[i]ncreased 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, the agency will issue a 104(b) withdrawal order until the silica overexposure hazard has been abated.”
- “For coal mines, the agency will encourage changes to dust control and ventilation plans to address known health hazards.”
- MSHA will expand “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.”
- MSHA will “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.”
- “[M]etal and nonmetal sampling will focus on miners working to remove overburden.”
- MSHA will “[r]emind miners about their rights to report hazardous health conditions, including any attempt to tamper with the sampling process.”
In addition to these enforcement efforts, the agency has also pledged to provide mine operators with “compliance assistance and best practices to limit miners’ exposure to silica dust.”
According to the news release, this assistance will be provided by the Educational Field and Small Mine Service staff through outreach to mine operators, unions, and others in the mining community.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor this enforcement effort by MSHA and will report on developments and post updates on the firm’s Mine Safety blog. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.