Source: Mining Technology
Despite improvements in health and safety in US mining, dust inhalation remains a real threat, with black lung seeing a resurgence in cases. We speak to the Mine Safety and Health Administration about this challenge, and how it aims to tackle it.
US mining has enjoyed years of continued improvements with regard to safe operations, with falling fatalities highlighting an industry that is more aware than ever of the risks faced by its employees. Figures from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) show that fatalities at US mining operations have fallen slightly in recent years, from 28 in 2017 to 27 in 2019, and significantly since the turn of the millennium, with the 85 deaths reported in 2000 close to triple the 2019 figure.
Yet while the industry does its best to clamp down on the hazardous practices it can control, such as implementing a culture of safety above all else and investing in adequate safety equipment, there is an inherent risk faced by miners in this sector: that of dust inhalation. Mining, by design, kicks up vast quantities of dust, and the enclosed subterranean spaces where many miners work are difficult to adequately ventilate, resulting in a significant threat to miners’ respiratory health.
Most worryingly, this trend is not improving, with reports from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a part of the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noting that the prevalence of conditions such as coalworkers’ pneumoconiosis, known colloquially as ‘black lung’, is, in fact, increasing amongst US miners, raising questions about the industry’s response to the threat.
Significant risks and uneven progress
The production of dust poses significant risks for mineworkers, with both long-term health conditions arising from dust inhalation, and short-term risks of ignition and explosion, threatening miners.
Written by: JP Casey