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Coal Mine Occupational Illnesses: Pneumoconiosis and COPD

Along with a risk of cave-ins and other dangers, coal miners face the possibility of serious disease as they work. The two most common occupational illnesses are pneumoconiosis and COPD.

Pneumoconiosis includes various kinds of respiratory conditions, but the most common among coal miners is referred to as coal worker's pneumoconiosis (CWP) or black lung. This condition is derived from inhaling coal dust and becomes increasingly likely as workers spend more time in mines. As miners dig, transport, or simply stand near operations involving coal, dust slowly builds up inside the lungs, unable to be filtered or removed by the body. As the dust accumulates, the lungs become inflamed and eventually the tissue may die and harden, causing shortness of breath and extremely painful breathing. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), once coal workers achieved 25 years of experience, they had a significant percentage increase in becoming afflicted with the disease.

The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 imposed safety measures on coal mining operations to protect workers from black lung. The Act requires that surface mines be inspected twice a year and underground ones four times a year, enabling much more regular enforcement of safety guidelines. The government was also given the power to impose monetary fines for violations and to provide financial help for miners who have become incapacitated by Black Lung disease.

Coal Miners and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Another serious disease faced by coal miners across the country is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This lung affliction includes chronically poor airflow, which can cause coughing, shortness of breath, and sputum production. The disease often includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and even asthma. Consistent exposure to coal dust can lead to this severe respiratory disease, and the effects suffered by the patient steadily increase over time. COPD is a somewhat more common deadly disease, not exclusive to coal miners. The CDC listed it as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2011. Smoking, pollution, and other such factors can cause COPD, but exposure to coal dust, combined with other respiratory diseases, greatly increases the risk of a worker contracting this serious and life-altering condition.

Coal Mining Injury and Occupational Illness

COPD and pneumoconiosis are only two of the many risks faced by coal miners every day on the job. To reduce miner's exposure to coal dust, many safety practices must be observed. If not properly enforced, workers stand to contract occupational diseases such as these, which can threaten their lives or hamper their ability to breathe for the rest of their lives.

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