Complicated Black Lung Resurges
Dec 21, 2016

LEAD STORY

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a study, which focused on a small health clinic in Kentucky, showing a resurgence of the most severe form of black lung disease, progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). The study concludes that the routine surveillance program needs improvement to promptly identify the early stages of black lung disease to stop its progression to PMF and the actual extent of PMF in U.S. coal miners remains unclear.

SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM

The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 (Coal Act) established the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program. The goal of the surveillance program is to reduce the incidence of black lung disease and eliminate PMF by offering active coal miners no-cost medical monitoring that includes chest x-rays, spirometry testing (testing lung function), and respiratory health questionnaires. However, testing is voluntary and the current NIOSH study noted only 17% of Kentucky coal miners participated.

RESPIRABLE DUST RULE

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued the respirable dust rule in 2014 with the final phase effective August 1, 2016. The rule lowers the concentration levels of harmful respirable coal mine dust that causes black lung. The rule requires increased sampling, use of new technology for real-time sampling results and immediate corrective action when excessive dust levels are found. 

MOVING FORWARD

Although the new limits on mine dust exposure took effect in August, the effect of those rules will not be known immediately since it can a decade or longer for black lung and PMF to develop. NIOSH continues to operate the Enhanced Coal Workers' Health Surveillance Program, whereby a mobile examination unit visits various locations in the coal fields. With the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund nearly $6 billion debtand rising cases of black lung claims, this will remain a critical issue before Congress.

WORKPLACE FATALITIES INCREASE

DOL

The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries showing workplace deaths were up nationwide in 2015. There were 4,826 fatal workplace injuries in 2015, the highest since 2008 when 5,214 workers were killed in the workplace.  The number of transportation incident fatalities increased in 2015 and accounted for 42% of all workplace deaths with 2,054 fatalities.

FATALITY RATE DOWN

However, the rate of workplace deaths fell slightly to 3.38 in 2015, measured per 100,000 full-time equivalent employees (FTE), compared to 3.43 in 2014. The rate of workplace deaths has fallen relatively steadily since 2006.

MAKING OUR WAY AROUND THE COUNTRY

CALIFORNIA

The California Division of Workers' Compensation announced the 2017 audit standards for all adjusting locations handling California workers' compensation claims. This includes insurance companies, self-administered self-insured employers, and third party administrators. Every five years, the DWC conducts a profile audit review (PAR) on adjusting locations and rates for compliance in specific areas of benefit provision. The performance of the adjusting location will be measured in five areas of claim administration, including timeliness of indemnity payments and for the provision of notice for a qualified or agreed medical evaluation.

TEXAS

The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) issued a mandatory data call to all insurance companies writing workers' compensation, general liability, boiler and machinery, medical professional liability, miscellaneous professional liability, private passenger nonfleet automobile, homeowners multiple peril, commercial fire and allied lines, commercial multiple peril, commercial crime, and commercial glass for their 2016 annual experience. The call is required under the Texas Insurance Code and is due no later than Feb. 10, 2017.

2016

It's been an interesting year with stories on the electionopioids and marijuanaBrexit, the constitutionality of work comp, and even the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. Please enjoy some of the top photos of 2016.

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