NIOSH Announces Free Confidential Screenings for Mine Workers

A coal miner performing spirometry to assess his lung function

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is offering a series of free, confidential health screenings to coal miners throughout the United States.

The screenings are intended to provide early detection of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as black lung, a serious but preventable occupational lung disease in coal miners caused by breathing respirable coal mine dust.

The health screenings will be provided through the state-of-the-art NIOSH mobile testing unit at convenient community and mine locations.

NIOSH will provide the health screening for these coal miners under its Enhanced Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program.  This public health outreach is in response to a well-documented increase in serious disease, and in response to new regulations requiring that health screenings be offered to surface miners.

This year’s first focus started the week of April 11 and ends on May 20, 2016, in coal mining regions throughout Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

The second focus starts the week of August 14 and ends on September 9, 2016 in Western Virginia.  Local and individual outreach will be done in all specific locations.  All coal miners (current, former, underground, surface, and contract) are welcome to participate.

The screening provided by NIOSH will include a work history questionnaire, a chest radiograph, a respiratory assessment questionnaire, and spirometry testing.  Blood pressure screening will be offered as well.  Typically, the process takes about 30 minutes.  NIOSH provides the individual miner with the results of their own screening.  By law, each person’s results are confidential.  No individual information is publicly disclosed.

The prevalence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis among long-term underground miners who participated in chest radiographic screening decreased from the 1970s to the 1990s.  Although this is still much less than in the 1970s, the prevalence of CWP among US coal miners has increased since the 1990s.  CWP can occur in mines of all sizes.  Miners who work in particular areas of the country, in certain mining jobs, and in these smaller mines have an increased risk of developing CWP. Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF), a more serious, advanced disease, is much more prevalent among miners from underground mines with fewer than 50 workers.  Participation in this Program gives the coal miner:

  • An easy way of checking on their health;
  • A confidential report regarding whether or not they have radiographic evidence of CWP or PMF;
  • Detection at an early stage of some chest problems other than “black lung.”