Are health regulations enough? Lung disease on the rise in mine workers

May 7, 2018, Society for Risk Analysis

While on-the-job fatalities due to injuries and accidents have steadily decreased in nearly every industry in the U.S., the burden of debilitating lung disease in the coal mining industry has sharply increased within the last decade. A new study published in Risk Analysis: An International Journal examines whether compliance with health regulations at mines across the country was sufficient to decrease instances of lung disease.

Increases in diseases associated with coal mining have been documented by numerous independent data sources including The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) administered Coal Workers' Health Surveillance Program, mortality data from deceased miners, federal black lung compensation and state compensation disability claims and the national transplant registry.

One strategy currently employed to prevent lung in mines is compliance with Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) requirements. MSHA outlines numerous rules and regulations for sampling, emission limits, medical surveillance, dust monitoring, tests for gases and air flow, etc. However, there are limited resources available to help mines determine how much to invest in each potential prevention activity. Given recent increases in dust-induced lung diseases in , research is needed to help inform resource allocation.

The study, "Interstitial lung diseases in the U.S. mining industry: Using MSHA data to examine trends and the prevention effects of compliance with health regulations, 1996-2015," was conducted by Patrick L. Yorio, Ph.D., A. Scott Laney, Ph.D., Cara N. Halldin, Ph.D., David J. Blackley, Dr.P.H., Susan M. Moore, Ph.D., Kerri Wizner, MPH, Lewis J. Radonovich, M.D., and Lee A. Greenawald, Ph.D., from NIOSH. The researchers analyzed data from MSHA's databases to determine the effectiveness of the MSHA standards and regulations.

Current MSHA requirements outline numerous rules for both eliminating or reducing airborne contamination and the risk of exposure through management practices. For example, maintaining a working environment with noted airborne contaminants below a certain level, effectively communicating levels of airborne contaminants and providing NIOSH-approved personal respiratory protection when appropriate. The researchers analyzed the MSHA standards in their entirety, parts 1-104, and found 17 total instances in which a standard mandates that mines continuously maintain airborne contaminants below a specified level and 51 instances in which a standard mandates that mines accurately assess the airborne hazards, communicate the assessment results and provide protection when appropriate.

The researchers used data from 8,165 mines across the country that were active during 1996-2015. The data revealed 730 cases of lung disease reported from 2006-2015. Coal mines reported a majority of the cases (662), all of which were cases of pneumoconiosis. Additionally, the majority of lung disease cases (640) originated in the Appalachian region, compared to a total of 22 cases in the Western, Southern, and North Central regions combined.

Statistical analysis of the data revealed that for each unit increase in an inspector observed instance of non-compliance with regulations related to reducing the risk of exposure through management practices there was a 12-14 percent increase in the probability of that mine reporting lung disease. For each unit increase in an inspector observed instance of non-compliance with regulations related to reducing airborne contamination, there was a 10-22 percent increase in the probability of that mine reporting a lung disease. Mines located in the Appalachian region were also 2.73-3.40 times more likely to report a case of pneumoconiosis compared to other regions. Underground mines were also 8-9.78 times more likely to report a case than surface coal mines.

"Our study found that mines that comply with relevant MSHA health standards experience a substantially lower number of lung diseases over time," said lead author Yorio, Ph.D., of CDC's NIOSH. "This suggests a disciplined effort to comply with relevant MSHA requirements can be an effective method to prevent mining-related occupational lung disease."

Cases of lung disease reported to the MSHA occurred mostly in underground coal mines concentrated in the Appalachian region of the U.S. In general, coal mines were 16-17.8 times more likely to report a lung disease diagnosis to MSHA than a non-coal mine. The findings of this study empirically demonstrates the efficacy of actionable organizational strategies designed to prevent occupational .

Explore further: Majority of mining-related injuries and illness in Illinois go unreported

More information: Patrick L. Yorio et al, Interstitial Lung Diseases in the U.S. Mining Industry: Using MSHA Data to Examine Trends and the Prevention Effects of Compliance with Health Regulations, 1996-2015, Risk Analysis (2018). DOI: 10.1111/risa.13000

Related Stories

Majority of mining-related injuries and illness in Illinois go unreported

March 9, 2018
Illnesses and injuries associated with working in Illinois mines are substantially underreported to the federal agency tasked with tracking these events, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Industrial ...

Why is mining-related lung disease on the rise?

February 23, 2018
The passage of critical mine health and safety legislation in the late 1960s, along with advances in technology and safety practices, helped to decrease the prevalence of lung diseases for miners. But starting in the mid-1990s, ...

Call for improved monitoring for coal workers

March 31, 2017
Researchers and clinicians are calling on the mining industry and governments to create better regulations in the interest of the health of coal miners.

Black lung disease on the rise

February 16, 2018
An article published Feb. 6, 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health had identified 416 cases of advanced black lung ...

'Black lung is back' researcher says

May 17, 2013
The dangers of coal mining enter the spotlight periodically when disasters strike, but one West Virginia University researcher argues that coal mine dust exposure, which has caused an increase in the prevalence and severity ...

Recommended for you

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

Effect of oral alfacalcidol on clinical outcomes in patients without secondary hyperparathyroidism

December 11, 2018
Treatment with active vitamin D did not decrease cardiovascular events in kidney patients undergoing hemodialysis, according to a research group in Japan. They have reported their research results in the December 11 issue ...

Licence to Swill: James Bond's drinking over six decades

December 10, 2018
He may be licensed to kill but fictional British secret service agent James Bond has a severe alcohol use disorder, according to an analysis of his drinking behaviour published in the Medical Journal of Australia's Christmas ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.