The coal mining community can “breathe a sigh of relief” now that the U.S. Department of Labor finalized the Byrd Amendments provision of the Black Lung Benefits Act, passed in 2010. Pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, has been a source of controversy for the mining industry and is a very real risk of the job. Senator Byrd of West Virginia, for who the amendments are named, originally sponsored the bill. The final rules for these amendments were implemented this week.
These amendments restore two provisions that had been abolished in 1981. The first orders a presumption of total disability or death for miners suffering from pneumoconiosis who had worked in underground mining at least 15 years and suffered crippling respiratory problems. The second amendment automatically transfers the benefits of an employee who had been receiving payments stemming from black lung to their dependents.
This act is directed by the Office of Workers’ Compensation but individual coal miner operators are in charge of paying their employees and their families. According to statistics from the Department of Labor, 549, 619 black lung cases were filed in 2012 and payments that year totaled over $210 million. Unlike accidents, which can happen in a split second, black lung is an occupational disease that can take years to present itself. It is a risky part of the job, but that doesn’t mean those who get it should have to pay for it.