MSHA targeting silica with enforcement initiative

By |  June 13, 2022

Logo: MSHA

The Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) launched an enforcement initiative with the intention of better protecting miners from health hazards resulting from repeated overexposure to respirable crystalline silica.

MSHA says silica dust affects thousands of miners each year and that, without adequate protection, miners face the risk of serious illnesses – many of which can be fatal.

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth’s crust, the agency says. Materials such as sand, stone, concrete and mortar contain crystalline silica. Respirable crystalline silica – minute particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary beach sand – becomes airborne during cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone and rock.

Without proper protections and engineering controls in place, MSHA says miners can be exposed to dangerous levels of crystalline silica particles, increasing their risk of developing serious silica-related diseases. These conditions include incurable lung diseases such as black lung; progressive massive fibrosis, which the agency describes as the most severe form of black lung; silicosis; lung and other cancers; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and kidney disease.

“Simply put, protecting miners from unhealthy levels of silica cannot wait,” says Chris Williamson, assistant secretary at MSHA. “We are committed to using every tool in MSHA’s toolbox to protect miners from developing debilitating and deadly lung diseases that are entirely preventable. We have seen too many miners carrying oxygen tanks and struggling to breathe just to take a few steps or do the simplest of tasks after having their lungs destroyed by toxic levels of respirable dust.

“Our agency is working hard and is committed to issuing a silica rule that will enhance health protections for all miners,” Williamson adds. “The enforcement initiative that we are announcing today is a step we can take now while we continue the rulemaking process toward the development of an improved mandatory health standard.”

As part of its initiative, MSHA will conduct silica dust-related mine inspections and expand silica sampling at mines while providing mine operators with compliance assistance and best practices to limit miners’ exposure to silica dust.

MSHA says its silica enforcement initiative will spot inspections at coal and metal/nonmetal mines with a history of repeated silica overexposures to closely monitor and evaluate health and safety conditions. Additionally, the initiative will include 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 is abated. MSHA will also encourage changes to dust control and ventilation plans for coal mines to address known health hazards.

Expanded silica sampling at metal and nonmetal mines will also take place, MSHA says, to ensure inspectors’ samples represent the mines, commodities and occupations known to have the highest risk for overexposure. MSHA also plans to remind miners about their rights to report hazardous health conditions, including any attempt to tamper with the sampling process.

Also, MSHA’s Educational Field & Small Mine Services staff will provide compliance assistance and outreach to mine operators, unions and other mining community organizations to promote and advance protections for miners.

The recently launched MSHA initiative is intended to take immediate action to reduce the risks of silica dust exposure as the department’s development of a mining industry standard continues.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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