Before the Dust Settles

By Ross Watzman

A new study from the University of Kentucky has prompted the questioning of a 2010 Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) proposal to lower exposure limits for respirable coal dust in all underground and surface coal mines under the agency’s End Black Lung—Act Now campaign. 

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A Wellness Program Checkup

I recently attended a health and safety conference at Penn State. Among the presentations I found most interesting was a cost/benefit analysis of wellness programs. The presenter made a compelling case that wellness programs at coal companies provide a good return on investment, not just from a productivity standpoint, but also from a safety standpoint. I found myself wanting to jump right on the bandwagon. Little did I know, however, that jumping without proper preparation could be hazardous. Here is why.

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When is an Emergency Emergent?

A recent decision of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission may have “significantly and substantially” changed the way in which we evaluate penalties associated with MSHA citations. Historically, the commission considers a violation S&S if it is reasonably likely to result in a reasonably serious injury. The question in this case is what does “reasonably likely” mean in the context of a citation issued for violations of regulations that only come into play during emergencies. Companies have historically argued that, since emergencies are not “reasonably likely” to occur, violations of regulations related to emergencies are not “reasonably likely” to lead to an accident. This is precisely the scenario that arose in Cumberland Coal Resources LLP v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission D.C. Circuit June 7, 2013.

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Promise (and Potential Legal Perils) in Better Drug & Alcohol Testing

It is now (thankfully) hard to imagine a time when it was acceptable for miners (and other workers) to openly consume alcohol on the job, and the use of illegal narcotics has (thankfully) never been an accepted practice in mining or among miners. Unfortunately, that does not mean that alcohol and drugs have disappeared from the workplace. In 2008, MSHA noted that “in the mining industry, 13.3% of full-time miners were heavy alcohol users and 7.3% admitted that they used illicit drugs within the past month.”

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Is MSHA About to Defy Science, Logic & Law with a New Coal Dust Rule?

MSHA anticipates publishing a final, new coal dust regulation in June 2013. A new exposure limit, proposed in October 2010, contemplates a 50% reduction from the current exposure limit (2 mg/m3) to 1 mg/m3.

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