Department of Labor Issues Final Rule to Reduce Silica Dust Exposure

Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su AnnouncesNew Silica Standard at UMWA’s District 2 Office

Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su addressed spectators on April 16th at UMWA’s District 2 office in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.


On April 16, 2024, the UMWA hosted a Labor Silica Rule Kickoff Event at the District 2 Office in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The final rule significantly reduces respirable crystalline silica exposures and improves the early detection of related diseases, a rule the UMWA has been advocating for years to implement.

The final rule lowers the permissible exposure limit of respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air for a full-shift exposure, calculated as an eight-hour, time-weighted average. If a miner’s exposure exceeds the limit, the final rule requires mine operators to take immediate corrective actions to come into compliance.

Among Su’s first words in front of a packed audience included, “Today, we’re making it clear that no job should be a death sentence, and every worker has the right to come home healthy at the end of the day. The final rule brings the permissible exposure limit for miners in line with the limit for workers in other industries and requires metal and nonmetal mine operators to provide periodic health exams at absolutely no cost tothe miners or their families. We are strengthening respiratory protection standards for miners against all airborne hazards, not just silica dust.

“Since I came to the Department of Labor, I have asked my team to unleash their full power to protect working people, to use all the tools we have, not just to conduct inspections and issue citations but to keep workers truly safe and make sure workers are heard. Today, we are doing just that,” Su said.

Taking the podium next was MSHA Assistant Secretary Chris Williamson, who followed up on Su’s remarks. “This rule reducing miners’ exposures to toxic silica dust has been a long time in the making, and the nation’s miners deserve its health protections.

“Congress gave MSHA the authority to regulate toxic substances to protect miners from health hazards and made clear in the Mine Act that miners’ health and safety must always be our top priority and concern. To further advance this directive, MSHA is committed to working together with everyone in the mining community to implement this rule successfully. No miner should ever have to sacrifice their health or lungs to provide for their family,” said Williamson.


Pictured (l-r) USW miner Marshall Cummings, MSHA Assistant Secretary Chris Williamson, President Roberts, Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su, UMWA Local Union 9909 member Dave Dayton and National Black Lung Association President Gary Hairston.


Other speakers commenting on the final rule were USW Vice President Kevin Mapp, USW miner Marshall Cummings, Dr. David Weissman from NIOSH and President of the National Black Lung Association, Gary Hairston.

“The United Mine Workers of America gives thanks to every agency, doctor, politician and current workers who have fought tirelessly for decades to bring this silica standard to fruition” said Secretary-Treasurer Sanson.

“In central Appalachia one in five coal miners suffer from black lung disease. The inhalation of respirable crystalline silica can, and most often does, cause black lung, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and a myriad of other insidious illnesses. These diseases are irreversible but also preventable. It is our hope that the implementation of the new silica rule will save the lives of hard- working men and women across our nation’s coal mines,” said Sanson.


President Roberts’Remarks on the Rule

“What does this rule do?”, said President Roberts. “It’s not overly complicated. More people will be alive 10 years from now if it wasn’t for what we’ve done fighting for this rule. All we have been fighting for decades now is to try and save people’s lives.”

“Young miners in their 30’s and 40’s are getting lung diseases that are being exacerbated by silica dust. What was thought to be a disease of the past is coming back with a vengeance because miners are cutting more rock than ever before. This is a critical step to keeping miners safe and healthy. Now, our focus shifts to holding mining operators accountable. The UMWA remains steadfast in our efforts to ensure strict adherence to the new legislation within the industry.“This is a critical step to keeping miners safe and healthy, not just day to day, but for their full lifetime. This is a good day for miners. Workers in other industries have long been protected from excessive exposure to silica dust, but miners were not, even though they work in an environment where silica dust is encountered daily. It was a travesty that the government had never taken steps to protect them, but now it finally has,” Roberts said.

MSHA’s final rule will improve the health and safety of U.S. miners significantly. The rule will result in an estimated total of 1,067 lifetime avoided deaths and 3,746 lifetime avoided cases of silica-related illnesses. The rule will take effect for coal mines in April, 2025 and for metal and nonmetal mines in April, 2026, in order to ensure operators have the tools to implement it correctly