Occupational health and safety regulation in the coal mining industry: Public health at the workplace

J. L. Weeks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The strategy for preventing occupational disease and injury in the coal mining industry employs several elements. Standards are set and enforced; technical assistance, research, and development are provided; and surveillance is conducted. Compensation for black lung is a vivid reminder of the consequences of failure to prevent disease. And, workers are represented by a union that encourages active participation in all aspects of this strategy. There are significant problems in each of these elements. Regulatory reform threatens to weaken many standards, there is a decline in government research budgets, surveillance is not well monitored, and compensation for black lung is significantly more difficult to obtain now than in the past. Moreover, the conservative governments of the past decade are not friendly towards unions. Nevertheless, the fundamental structure of disease and injury prevention remains intact and, more importantly, it has a historical record of success. The Mine Safety and Health Act provided for a wide array of basic public health measures to prevent occupational disease and injury in the mining industry. These measures have been effective in reducing both risk of fatal injury and exposure to respirable coal mine dust. They are also associated with temporary declines in productivity. In recent years, however, productivity has increased, while risk of fatal injury and exposure to respirable dust have declined. At individual mines, productivity and lower injury rates appear to rise and fall together, and increases in productivity with longwall mining methods appear to be associated with increases in exposure to respirable dust. These trends are not inconsistent with similar trends following implementation of regulations by OSHA. When OSHA promulgated regulations to control exposure to vinyl chloride monomer, enforcement of the standard promoted significant efficiencies in vinyl chloride production (5). Similarly, when OSHA promulgated its standard regulating exposure to cotton dust, this effort provoked modernization in the cotton textile industry (14). It is not inevitable that occupational health and safety regulations are associated with negative economic performance. On the contrary, in some instances, public health on the job and productivity are complementary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-207
Number of pages13
JournalAnnual Review of Public Health
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • coal workers' pneumoconiosis
  • occupational injuries
  • surveillance
  • workers' compensation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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