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Annu. Rev. Public Health 1991.12:195-207. Downloaded from Access provided by University of California - San Francisco UCSF on 02/11/15. For personal use only.

Annu. Rev. Publ. Health 1991. 12:195-207 Copyright © 1991 by Annual Reviews Inc. All rights reserved

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY REGULATION IN THE COAL MINING INDUSTRY: PUBLIC HEALTH AT THE WORKPLACE James L. Weeks Department of Occupational Health and Safety, United Mine Workers of America, Washington, DC 20005 KEY WORDS:

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

INTRODUCTION One of the principal mechanisms for achieving occupational health and safety goals is government regulation of employers. Thus, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its sister agency, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), both in the US Department of Labor, were established to set and enforce standards with workplace inspections and issue citations and fines for noncompliance. Administrative law agencies for both OSHA and MSHA adjudicate disputes. The underground coal mining industry's experience with MSHA is a useful and informative case study in the efficacy of regulation: The coal mining industry is sufficiently large and hazardous, regulatory intervention is sub­ stantial, and the distinction between relatively less and more regulated time periods is well defined (before and after the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act). Following passage of the Mine Act, the rate of fatal injuries in the coal mining industry decreased significantly (19). Exposure to respirable coal mine dust, the cause of coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) and other 195

0163-7525/91/0501-0 195$02.00



chronic lung diseases, also decreased (18). This historical record is consistent with the proposition that regulation works-when standards are set and conscientiously enforced, hazards can be controlled. In addition to setting and enforcing standards, the Mine Act implemented many basic methods of public health. It provided for technical assistance,

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research and development, surveillance, worker training and education, and compensation for persons afflicted with CWP and other chronic occupational lung diseases commonly referred to as black lung. It provided for both risk assessment and risk management. These developments took place in an industry with a high proportion of workers organized into one union, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which has a long history of advocacy of workers' health and safety. Worker involvement in health and safety is a key ingredient in success

(7, 20). In this review, we will describe these elements as a case study of a coherent, multifaceted, and effective strategy for achieving occupational health and safety objectives. Occupational health and safety does not exist in a social or economic vacuum. Indeed, occupational disease and injury occur at the core institution in a society'S welfare. This institution is the workplace, in which goods and services and wealth and income are produced. Occupational diseases and injuries do not necessarily share certain pathologies, rather they share this common social context. Thus, in this review we also will examine some measures of economic effects of regulatory intervention in the affairs of the coal mining industry. Because a comprehensive analysis of this important topic is well beyond the scope of this review, we will suggest a few indicators of economic effects.

ELEMENTS OF A PUBLIC HEALTH STRATEGY TO PREVENT OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE AND INJURY In a high hazard occupational environment, such as an underground coal mine, many injuries result in death or permanent disability; many occupation­ al diseases, such as chronic lung disease and hearing loss, are irreversible. Therefore, primary disease prevention is the principal public health objective. Like other public health objectives, the strategy for achievement has many elements. In the coal mining industry, these elements are regulation, technical assistance, research and de:velopment, surveillance, and compensation for persons with occupational lung diseases. Active participants include govern­ ment officials, health scientists, employers, and miners themselves, both individually and collectively. This list simply represents the standard public health methods. However, their effective application to the workplace is important to document.



Regulation The Mine Act of

1969 (with amendments in 1977) is similar to the Occupa­ 1970. The Mine Act authorizes MSHA to

tional Safety and Health Act of

write standards, inspect mines, and impose penalties for noncompliance. It

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also establishes an administrative law court to adjudicate disputes. Employers and employees (referred to as mine operators and miners) have appeal rights to federal courts of appeal. Like OSHA, MSHA can make both civil and criminal charges. There are significant differences between the two, however, with respect to standards, enforcement. and other matters. Many mining standards are specified by statute in the Mine Act. For example, it contains many prescriptions for mining practice, including de­ tailed requirements for roof support, ventilation, electrical equipment, fire protection, mine maps, use of explosives, hoists, emergency shelters, and communications. It sets a statutory permissible exposure limit on personal exposure to respirable coal mine dust. Because of these statutory require­ ments, MSHA has less flexibility for rule-making than does OSHA. The Mining Safety and Health Administration's safety standards also tend to be more specific than performance-type standards. The additional specific­ ity is sometimes thought to inhibit innovation and flexibility

(1), but specific

standards are easier to implement and to enforce. This specificity also can provide a certain reduncancy that is appropriate for a highly hazardous environment. For example, the mine face, from which coal is cut, is the most dangerous and difficult place to ventilate in a mine. Most often, it is the site from which most methane is liberated and most dust is generated. A pure performance standard, designed to prevent excessive respirable dust and methane, would set limits on their concenctrations and let the operator to find a way to comply with these limits. Current standards, however, not only set limits on concentration, they require regular monitoring by the operator, minimum quantities and velocities of air in the last cross-cut before the face and into the face area, and certain actions when limits are exceeded. (See the appendix for a description of mining methods and terminology.) Proposed changes in ventilation regulations, however, move away from specification and towards performance standards. For example, proposed changes in ventilation regulations would allow ventilation controls to be farther than the currently required ten feet from the face, provided average exposure to respirable dust was less than the permissible exposure limit. Such a standard is significantly more difficult to enforce. Ten feet can be measured with a ten-foot pole; measurement of respirable dust requires a full shift sample that must be weighed by a laboratory away from the mine site. This p rocedure usually takes several days. During that time, conditions change as the mining machine advances further into the seam of coal. In addition, MSHA has significantly greater and different enforcement



powers than does OSHA. These differences largely derive from the nature of mining as an activity-it is very hazardous and constantly changing. And, because the work-site is literally carved out of the earth, many hazards are unpredictable. [The agriculture, construction, fishing, and logging industries, which also have high fatal and nonfatal injury rates, share some of these

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features (3).J Therefore, constant vigilance by MSHA, the mine operator, and miners is essential. The Mining Safety and Health Administration is required to conduct fre­ quent inspections. Under MSHA, all underground mines must be inspected quarterly, and surface mines must be inspected semiannually. Mine in­ spections also may be requested by workers or may be initiated by the agency for special reasons, such as modifications in ventilation or roof control plans. For the 75,000 underground and 46,000 surface miners, there were 2745 inspectors in 1989. For the 85.7 million workers under OSHA' s jurisdiction, there were 2404 inspectors. Mine inspectors have the authority to shut down all or part of a mine when there is an imminent danger. However, OSHA inspectors must obtain a federal court order to close workplaces where there is an imminent danger, a far more cumbersome procedure. Unlike employers under OSHA's jurisdiction, mine operators must submit plans for mine ventilation and roof control to MSHA before operating a mine. In effect, they must obtain a permit. Before an individual can work as a miner, the Mine Act also requires mine operators to provide the individual with 40 hours training. Miners also must receive eight hours of refresher training annually. Under OSHA, there is no such requirement.

Technical Assistance Like OSHA, MSHA can provide technical assistance to mine operators with specific problems. This assistance can be provided either by the Technical Support Division within MSHA or by the US Bureau of Mines in the Department of the Interior. Thus, along with the stick of regulation comes the carrot of technical assistance. Because of a long tradition of research and development in mining health and safety problems, this assistance is practical and of high quality.

Research and Development The Mine Act also authorizes research into several aspects of mine safety and health. Responsibility is delegated to the Bureau of Mines and to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for research into safety and health, respectively. The Bureau of Mines conducts engineering research into several aspects of mine fires and explosions, roof and ground control, ventilation, gas control,



dust measurement and control methods, and noise control. This research is typically applied and practical, rather than basic and theoretical. For example, the Bureau has published handbooks on dust control methods and catalogues of noise control technology for use by operators, foremen, and union repre­ sentatives.

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Research of this type complements enforcement efforts. For example, when MSHA identifies a hazard and compels an operator to eliminate it, control techniques from which the operator can choose are often well defined. If the problem has been successfully addressed by research, the question of feasibility is moot. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducts epidemiologic, clinical, and industrial hygiene research concerned with a variety of occupational diseases and hazards among miners. This research is used to evaluate standards and controls and to identify health hazards in the industry. Under NIOSH, the largest coal mining-related project is the Nation­ al Study of Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis, which was originally intended to be a longitudinal study of CWP in a cohort of miners. Initiated in

1969 and

still underway, it should prove useful for evaluating the efficacy of the respirable dust standard.

Surveillance Surveillance is an essential part of a public health effort to prevent disease and injury. Surveillance for both disease and injury is more extensive under MSHA than OSHA. All operators are required to report quarterly on all injuries, hours worked, tons produced, and certain accidents, such as roof falls, fires, and flooding, regardless of whether injuries occurred. Thus, it is possible to compute crude, mine-specific injury rates and to identify "near­ miss" incidents. Operators also must measure and report exposure to respir­

1989, dust monitor­ 65,000 dust samples for the 1619

able dust six times each year for each mining section. In ing requirements resulted in approximately

underground coal mines. The MSHA inspectors also take dust measurements. These monitoring and reporting requirements make it possible to evaluate performance of the industry as a whole and to focus on those operators with the most significant problems. Surveillance requirements under OSHA, however, are different. Employ­ ers are required to report only fatalities and injuries that result in hospitaliza­ tions for five or more persons; other injuries only are required to be recorded, but not reported. Consequently, setting priorities for inspections is difficult. This problem is significant for an agency with already scarce resources and, therefore, compelling reasons to be selective in how they are used


The Mine Act also provides for surveillance of CWP. Mine operators are required to provide underground miners with a chest x-ray when first em-

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ployed and at regular intervals thereafter. Chest x-ray facilities and film readers are required to be certified by NIOSH, which provides for some degree of quality control on films and their interpretation. There are two purposes to this program: to monitor progress in preventing CWP and to offer miners who have positive films the opportunity to transfer to a less dusty job. Transfer is supposed to occur at no loss of income to the miner; over time, however, the income of transferred miners is less than expected. This medical removal program was set up earlier than OSHA's program under its lead standard and is different in one important respect. Coal work­ ers' pneumoconiosis is irreversible, and lead poisoning is not, at least not at the blood lead concentration at which the medical removal program becomes an option under OSHA's programs. Therefore, once a miner exercises the opportunity to transfer, he or she becomes known as a person with a positive film for CWP. This knowledge could make future employment in the mining industry difficult. An employer may not wish to accomodate such a miner. And, because under the federal black lung program, payment of black lung awards must be made by the operator who last employed the miner, an employer may not wish to risk liability. Other problems plague this program, too. For example, the chest x-ray is the only diagnostic tool used to evaluate early lung disease among miners, in spite of its imperfections and a broad legislative mandate. Especially for early diagnosis of CWP, the chest x-ray is an uncertain measure of effects. Other procedures, such as spirometry, also could be used (16). Furthermore, many aspects of the program are delegated to mine operators, which creates the common impression among miners that it is an operator's program. For these and other reasons, participation in the chest x-ray surveillance program and in the transfer program is relatively poor.

eompensation The Mine Act also created a unique program to compensate miners with black lung, the everyday term applied to chronic occupational lung disease among coal miners. We will not analyze this controversial and expensive program (2, 15), but rather to describe its role as one element in a strategy for prevention. In this regard, its expense alone is a clear object lesson of the consequences of systematic neglect. In the 20 years of its existence, over $20 billion have been paid out in benefits to miners and their families. Current annual payments are $1.2 billion (12). Compensation for occupational disease rarely provides incentive for pre­ vention, but the black lung program may be an exception. Its expense is visible-it is centralized in one national program-and it is combined with the other elements of prevention described above. In contrast, compensation payments for back injuries among the nation's entire workforce, which is



estimated at $16 billion annually, attracts much less attention because these payments are made by state compensation agencies.

Union Involvement In the coal mining industry, worker and union participation occurs in two

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arenas: collective bargaining and regulation, which are governed by the National Labor Relations Act and the Mine Act, respectively. The most tangible product of collective bargaining is the contract between the UMWA and








Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement. The health and safety provisions were first agreed upon in 1978 and have changed little with subsequent renegotia­ tions. Provisions of this contract arc exceptional in labor-management agreements in the US. They include recognition of a union-elected health and safety committee at each mine, creation of a joint industry-wide BCOA-UMWA committee for the purpose of training mine-site committee members and for other purposes, and recognition of the right of union staff to enter and inspect a mine. Individual workers have a right to refuse work they consider unsafe, and committee members have the right to shut down part of a mine in case of imminent danger


Both of these controversial rights are carefully circum­

scribed and have been subject of several arbitration decisions. Mine operators are required to notify the union before introducing new technology. Both sides also agree to comply with requirements of the Mine Act, a provision that allows some disputes to be resolved through collective bargaining in addition to whatever remedies exist under the Act. The International Union also has a large staff, with administrative per­ sonnel at the headquarters office; most staff work in field offices. Field representatives have had the same training as OSHA inspectors, a total of 13 weeks in all aspects of mine health and safety at the Mine Safety and Health Academy. The principal responsibility of field representatives is to provide training and technical assistance for the mine committees. The Union has the highest per capita budget for health and safety of any international union in the US (21). The other arena in which the union operates concerns regulatory affairs of MSHA. Under the Act, miners individually and collectively have many rights concerning both enforcement and standards setting. Miners have the right to request and to participate in inspections, to obtain copies of the records required by the Act, to petition for a modification of a standard, to object to petitions for modification filed by the operator, to comment on mine plans or changes in mine plans, and to participate in all aspects of rule-making. When citations are issued by MSHA against the operator, miners may contest the citation, period of abatement, or the termination of a citation, but they may



not contest the size of a penalty or the failure to issue a citation. Miners also may appeal any decision made by the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which is an administrative law court established by the Act. Miners also are supposed to be protected from discrimination for having exercised rights under the Act.

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Union miners are active participants in both mine inspections and rule­ making. For example, when a MSHA inspector visits a union mine, the designated union representative-typically a member of the mine health and safety committee-usually accompanies him or her during the inspection. At nonunion mines, a designated representative of miners is the exception, rather than the rule. At union, compared with nonunion mines, special inspections are requested more often and are more thorough, and MSHA requires abate­ ment more promptly. Although initial fines are about the same at union and nonunion mines, they are less likely to be reduced at union mines

(20). Thus,

the presence and participation of workers, which is provided for in occupa­ tional safety and health policy and necessary for thorough inspections and enforcement, is facilitated by union organization. The UMWA also participates in rule-making. In recent years, MSHA has undertaken major revisions of nearly all mining regulations. These revisions include proposed changes in roof control, ventilation, electrical regulations, use of explosives, permissible exposure limits, noise, and record-keeping. Currently, MSHA is considering new regulations, which concern the use of diesel-powered equipment in underground mines and hazard communication. The UMWA has been active in all phases of this rule-making. When MSHA held public bearings on proposed changes in ventilation regulations, over

10,000 miners attended and dozens testified. The UMWA also invoked a seldom-used section of the Act by petitioning for an Advisory Committee to assist MSHA with writing rules on the use of diesel-powered equipment in underground mines.

COSTS What is the cost of this public health intervention? One measure of cost is changes in productivity, or tons of coal produced per hour worked. This measure is independent of cost estimates based on dollars, and data are available from the same source--operator reports to MSHA-as data for computing fatality rates. Figures

1, 2, and 3 illustrate industry-wide annual

fatality rates based on hours worked, annual productivity, and the ratio of these two rates, i.e. annual fatality rates based on tons produced, for un­ derground mines for

1950 to 1989. These data suggest not only that the public

health plan for mine safety described above has been effective in reducing the risk of fatalities but also that it is associated with a temporary decline in



Annual Fatality Rates (by hours) 1950-1989 0.400 ..,.-------,

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-....--r--.--� ... ...--....-.,..... ... 0.000 +--....,.1950 1990 1970 1980 1960 YEAR Figure


Fatality rates show little change for the period before passage of the Mine Act in 1969

and a sharp consistent decline for the 1970s, following passage of the Act. For the 1980s, the rate of decline is less.

productivity. These trends are not apparent when fatalities rates are based on tons produced. At present, there are other indicators that suggest that productivity and risk of nonfatal injury are positively related. A National Research Council in­ vestigated the distinction between safe and unsafe mines. The Council con­ cluded in part that mines with lower injury rates also had higher productivity (4). A similar conclusion was reached in a study contracted by the Bureau of

Productivity (tons per hour) 1950-1989




" 0 % ... D Q.

r! �

3.00 2.75 2.50 2.25 2.00 1.75 1.50 1.25 1.00 0.75 0.50 0.25 0.00 1950





YEAR Figure


Productivity increased for the period before 1970, declined for a decade, then

increased to its present, higher level.



Annual Fatality Rates (by tons), 1950-1989 2.00 -r--' -------, 1.75 1.50

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1.25 1.00 0.75 0.50 0.25 .. 0.00 +-----r--..---....--....-,.--.--=-...j 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990

YEAR Figure 3

Fatalities based on


produced shows a consistent decline over this time period.

Mines (6). These conclusions suggest that safety practices promoted by the Mine Act are consistent with management practices that promote increased productivity. Trends in exposure to respirable dust differ among various mining methods. With continuous mining methods, the trend in dust exposure is consistently down while productivity is up (8, 9). With longwall methods, the industry-wide trend also shows decreasing exposure. However, increases in productivity in individual mines appear to be associated with increases in exposure to respirable dust (10, 17).

SUMMARY 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 con­ ducted. 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, productiv­

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ity 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 implementa­ tion 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

(14). It is not inevitable that occupational health and safety regulations are

effort provoked modernization in the cotton textile industry

associated with negative economic performance. On the contrary, in some instances, public health on the job and productivity are complementary. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The author wishes to acknowledge the useful criticisms and comments of Ruth Ruttenberg. ApPENDIX:

Coal Mining Technology


The two most common underground mining methods in use today are con­ tinuous mining and longwall mining. Continuous mining accounts for most production and is more common, but its proportion of production is declining.

2.62 tons per 2.48 tons per hour for continuous mining) and

Longwall mining, on the other hand, is more productive (about hours worked compared with more efficient

(9). The most productive mines employ both methods; con­

tinuous mining machines are used to develop longwall sections. In a large mine, as many as

12 continuous mining machines and two to three longwall

machines may operate at the same time in separate sections of the mine. The trend is to use more moderate-sized mines with one large longwall section and three to five continuous mining sections. The continuous mining machine cuts coal from the face with a large rotating drum studded with picks. As it is cut from the face, coal falls and is gathered into a conveyor that transports it to the tail-end of the machine. From there, it is loaded to a shuttle car or conveyor belt. Continuous mining was a significant advance over conventional mining, which depended on explosives to loosen coal from the face. With continuous mining, hazards of blasting were eliminated, there were fewer machines and



less movement of machines, and productivity increased. However, basic mine design-room and pillar mining-was unchanged. Rooms are areas from which coal has been extracted. Pillars, which are blocks of coal left in place to support the roof, are typically 40 ft by 40 ft. Deeper mines require larger pillars because of the

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increased load. Roof support also is provided by roof bolts, which anchor and stabilize rock strata above the rooms. Less commonly, roof support is pro­ vided by timbers, which may be laid horizontally to construct a crib or installed vertically as posts. Rows of pillars form entries whose purpose is to allow transportation of miners, materials, and coal; to provide escapeways in event of emergency; and to facilitate mine ventilation. Entries are usually designated as intakes or returns. These designations correspond to whether they are an intake for fresh air or a return for air contaminated with du�t and methane. Several entries usually make up a mine section in which the continuous mining machine, roof bolter, shuttle cars, and other machinery operate. The mine face, from which coal is extracted, is at the end of each entry. Many problems of productivity, safety, and health are inherent in room and pillar mining. Pillars are blocks of coal that often were left behind (because removing them posed considerable danger of roof falls) when the limits of a coal deposit were reached. Furthermore, even with pillars, bolts, and timbers, roof falls are common and are the leading cause of fatal mine injuries. And, for more than half the time of a workshift, continuous mining machines are not cutting coal; they must move from one face to another or they must wait for a shuttle car to return from the conveyor belt to receive another load. Longwall mining solves many of these problems and is a more fundamental change in mine design. It eliminates shuttle cars and, at the longwall face, it eliminates pillars and permanent roof supports.' It is more efficient at remov­ ing coal because pillars need not be left behind. It also is more productive. Machinery need not move as frequently from one place to another, and there is no need to wait for a shuttle car. In place of the 20-ft wide face from which continuous miners extract coal, the average width of a longwall face is 600 ft. Some faces extend up to 1000 ft. Unlike a continuous mining machine, which cuts as it advances into the coal, the longwall mining machine moves from one end of the face to the other. It cuts coal to a depth of about 36 in at a time and slowly advances into the block of coal. The mine roof is temporarily supported by large hydraulic jacks and shields that advancc with the mining machine, which allows the roof to fall as the machine, jacks, and shields advance into the block of coal. Dust exposure on longwall sections is a significant problem. Average dust exposure is twice that found on continuous mining sections. Thus, with increased productivity, there is improved roof support (but only on the section) and much more dust exposure.



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12. Nase, J. P. 1988-1989.The surprising cost of benefits:The legislative history of the Federal Black Lung Benefits Pro­ gram. 1. Miner. Law Policy 4:277-319 13. Pollack, E. S., Kei mig, D. G., eds. 1987. Panel Occup. Saf. Health Stat. Counting Injuries and Illnesses in the Workplace: Proposals for a Better Sys­ tem. Washington, DC: Nat!. Acad. Press 14. Ruttenberg, R. 1983. Compliance with the OSHA Cotton Dust Rule-The Role of Productivity Improving Technology. Final Rep. Off. Techno!. Assess., US Congr. 15. Smith, B. E. 1987. Digging Our Own Graves: Coal Miners and the Struggle over Black Lung Disease. Philadelphia:

Temple Univ. Press. 270 pp. 1 6. Speiler, E. 1989. Can coal miners es­

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19. Weeks, J. L., Fox, M. B. 1983. Fatality rates and regulatory policies in bitumi­ nous coal mining, United States, 19591981.Am.1. Public Health 73:1278-80 20. Weil, D. 1987. Government and labor at the workplace: The role of labor unions in the implementation of federal safety and health policy. PhD dis. Harv. Univ. 390 pp. 21. Wulfe, S. M., Abrams, L. 1983. Four­ teen Union Occupational Safety and Health Programs. Washington, DC:

Public Citiz. Health Res. Group 19 pp.

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

The strategy for preventing occupational disease and injury in the coal mining industry employs several elements. Standards are set and enforced; tech...
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