MSHA Announces New Silica Enforcement Initiative

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MSHA has announced a new enforcement initiative regarding overexposure to respirable crystalline silica.

The silica enforcement initiative is intended “to take immediate action to reduce the risks the silica exposure.” The initiative will include:

  • Spot inspections at coal and metal nonmetal mines with a history of repeated silica overexposures to closely monitor and evaluate health and safety conditions.
  • Increased 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, MSHA will issue a 104(b) withdrawal order until the silica overexposure hazard has been abated. For coal mines, MSHA will encourage changes to dust control and ventilation plans to address known health hazards.
  • Expanded 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.
  • A 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, while metal and nonmetal sampling will focus on miners working to remove overburden.
  • Reminding miners about their rights to report hazardous health conditions, including any attempt to tamper with the sampling process.

The agency is still planning to draft a rule on respirable crystalline silica.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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