Coal mining forms part of the economy and history of Pennsylvania. Underground mining, however, exposes workers to coal dust, which builds up in the lungs and causes serious and sometimes fatal health problems. Pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, has increased among miners despite workplace safety regulations that are meant to reduce coal dust exposure. Researchers also suspect that coal dust promotes lung cancer and emphysema.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has released a report questioning the efficacy of current safety regulations. The report cited concerns among researchers about continuous personal dust monitors worn by workers. These devices might not accurately measure the concentration of coal particles. Not all workers wear these monitoring devices, which complicates the assessment of their impact on preventing occupational illness.

A spokeswoman from the National Mining Association concurred with the content of the study. She said that mine operators and workers should use more methods to limit coal dust exposure instead of relying on dust monitoring. She said a mandatory chest X-ray program for miners could play a role in detecting hazards and newly developed airstream helmets could prevent miners from breathing the dangerous dust.

Exposures to hazardous materials at work could sicken a worker. When this happens, the person should have access to benefits for medical care and lost pay through workers’ compensation insurance. A serious occupational illness could cause a person financial hardship, but an employer might contest the claim that the workplace caused a disease. An attorney could support a person’s effort to access these benefits when an employer or insurer obstructs a legitimate claim. A lawyer could organize medical evidence, complete insurance paperwork and even file a lawsuit when necessary to advocate for a person’s need for compensation.