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Remarks by Acting Secretary Su announcing a final rule to reduce miners’ exposure to silica dust, improve health of nation’s miners

UNIONTOWN, PA – Acting Secretary Julie Su today made the following remarks during an announcement of the department’s issuance of a final rule by its Mine Safety and Health Administration to reduce miners’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust:

(As prepared for delivery)

“Thank you so much Dave, for that introduction and for sharing your story today. It’s great to be in Uniontown and I want to thank the United Mine Workers District 2 for hosting us. 

We are all gathered here today thanks to the leadership of the labor unions who represent miners and those working on mine sites — especially UMWA President Roberts, USW President David McCall and IUOE President James Callahan. 

And to President Cecil Roberts and the UMWA, I’m grateful for your ever-present leadership to pave the path to today, taking every opportunity to lift up the stories of miners and the protections they need to prevent occupational illnesses like silicosis and black lung. 

Of course, we are also grateful to the Building Trades for their partnership as well as to have PA AFL-CIO President Angela Ferritto and local CLC President Darrin Kelly here with us today. Your work as union leaders is lifting up and protecting all workers–union and non-union alike. 

Senators Casey and Fetterman have also been excellent partners in this work. Senator Casey especially has been leading this fight on behalf of the Commonwealth for decades. 

And we also have so many advocates from across the mining community — some of whom are here today —including Gary, Lynda, Debbie, Arvin, Billy, John and Sam. 

Today, we’re making it clear that no job should be a death sentence, and every worker has the right to come home healthy and safe at the end of the day. 

The stories that we will hear today from folks like Gary represent just a small fraction of miners who have had their lives upended by silica dust. In Central Appalachia, an estimated one in five long tenured coal miners have black lung disease. That’s one in five who struggle to get through a phone call or play with their grandkids without losing their breath. One in five whose life expectancy is cut down by an average of 12 years. One in five forced to carry this irreversible disease.

And the trends are going in the wrong direction. Doctors are diagnosing and treating more miners with black lung and other respiratory diseases than ever before at younger and younger ages. 

For too long, we accepted this as just the way things are for people who work in mines. They’ve had to work without the same protections from silica dust that people in other industries have, even though we’ve known about the harms of silica dust since Frances Perkins was the Secretary of Labor! 

Not on our watch. 

President Biden put this rule on his regulatory agenda from day one of his administration. This is what it looks like to have the most pro-worker, pro-union President in history. This new rule will reduce exposure to toxic silica dust and reduce entirely preventable diseases. 

I couldn’t be more proud of our team’s work on this rule. I want to call out Chris Williamson and the whole MSHA team for their long nights and truly excellent work. 

Our final rule brings the permissible exposure limit for miners in line with the limit for workers in other industries. It includes safeguards for miners’ health like engineering controls and monitoring to prevent overexposure. The final rule requires metal and nonmetal mine operators to provide periodic health exams at absolutely no cost to the miners or their families — modeled after the longstanding program that is currently available to coal miners. And 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. 

We estimate that this final rule will save more than a thousand lives and prevent severe illness for thousands more. This means more moms and dads, sons and daughters, coming home safe and healthy at the end of every day right here in Uniontown. I know that for the families in this room, especially those who have lost loved ones to illnesses caused by their jobs like silicosis and black lung, this final rule is a long time coming. I am so honored to be here with you all as we take this long overdue step forward. 

This rule — as important and exciting as it is — is just one part of what we are doing to unleash the full power of the Department of Labor to protect miners’ safety and health. So much of our work doesn’t make big news, but it’s what is making a difference in communities across America, like this one. 

First, we have built MSHA back up — hiring 270 new inspectors after the cuts of the last administration — to keep miners healthy and safe. In addition to our regular inspections across the country, we’re conducting monthly impact inspections in higher-risk mines to identify and eliminate hazards that can cost miners their lives. 

We are educating miners and mine operators about how to prevent accidents through proper training and precautionary measures, including our Take Time Save Lives campaign. While any miner death is one too many, this year fatalities are down dramatically, and we continue to double down on what works. 

We are making sure coal and metal and nonmetal miners know and exercise their rights under the Mine Act. 

We created a Miner Safety and Health App so every miner can get real-time information right on their phones. We send out targeted safety and health alerts through the app. 

And just last month, we launched a new Health Resource Locator Tool that makes it easier for miners to access the health care they need. 

This administration is deeply committed to miners, their families, and this community. 

We see you. We hear you. And we have your back — not just today, but every day. 

Thank you.” 

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Media Contact:

Mandy McClure, 301-624-3173, 
Release Number:  24-715-NAT