Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Changes to MSHA Diesel Rules Threaten Miners' Health

By Guest Blogger Celeste Monforton

Meanwhile, back in the real coal mines...

When Bush Administration officials team up with greedy mining companies, the result is usually a bad deal for miners. Today, it's not just a bad deal, it could be deadly.

On June 6, MSHA published a revision to a Clinton-administration health standard designed to protect underground non-coal miners from diesel exhaust and particulate matter (DPM) in diesel fumes. As Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers (USW)
said, "Without good controls, working in an underground mine can be like working in the tailpipe of a bus."

MSHA's scientists and career staff clearly understand the serious health risks faced by underground miners, who have the highest exposures to DPM of any occupation. In this latest
Federal Register notice they highlight the enormous body of scientific evidence linking Diesel Particulate Matter to adverse health effects, including lung cancer. Yet, in a reversal of the earlier rule, the Bush Administration turns the traditional "hierarchy of controls" on its head, expanding situations in which miners must wear respirators, instead of implementing more effective engineering controls.

The industrial hygiene "hierarchy of controls" states that engineering controls, like exhaust ventilation, are always the preferred means of controlling hazards. Respirators are always a last resort because they not as effective.

The most egregrious part of this rollback, however, is MSHA's failure to require mine operators to provide medical tests to ensure that a miner can safely wear a respirator. Breathing through respirators puts an extra burden on the heart and lungs, and wearing a respirator can be deadly for workers with undiagnosed heart conditions As noted by the USW, all OSHA standards require medical testing before workers wear respirators, and every major industrial hygiene and occupational health organization, as well as NIOSH, recommend such testing. .

Yes, this is a bad deal for miners. Now, if the diesel exhaust doesn't make them sick, the respirator might do them in.