The Mine Safety and Health Administration announced that it has approved a new kind of dust monitor for use in underground coal mines.
Continuous personal dust monitors measure the amount of respirable dust in the air throughout a miner's shift, instead of sampling the air after a shift. MSHA and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health determined that the devices can be used, but they are not required.
Older types of monitors are collected after a shift and sent to a lab for analysis, and that can take weeks.
The new monitors are good for providing miners with immediate feedback about the dust they're breathing in a mine, said Celeste Monforton of George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services. Monforton previously worked for MSHA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Monforton said the dust monitor is a small part of what she hoped would be a "comprehensive health standard to prevent black lung."
"What is MSHA's vision for the rights miners will be able to exercise given this knowledge that they'll potentially be wearing on their belt?" Monforton said.
One company has been approved to manufacture the 6.6-pound device that a miner wears into the mine.
The device is important to miners as they work longer shifts and overtime, and as recorded incidences of black-lung disease have started to climb.
Black lung is a range of respiratory diseases caused by inhaling coal and rock dust.
The new dust monitors must be able to measure dust levels during a 12-hour period, although MSHA rules requiring a sample averaging exposure over an eight-hour shift have not changed.
MSHA is considering lowering the personal dust exposure limits, officials have said.