Miners can avoid the epidemic of severe black lung by acting together to refuse working in illegal or highly-dusty conditions. We have young miners waiting on lung transplants, which should not happen in the 21st Century. But our laws provide much stronger protections than people commonly think for miners who refuse unsafe or unhealthful conditions.
Roof bolt operators may refuse to work downwind of active mining machines when there are dangerous amounts of silica or coal dust. Continuous miner operators may refuse to cut coal if there isn’t adequate airflow, such as on dusty “super sections” with two mining machines. Whether union or non-union, all miners enjoy these powerful legal rights to refuse such conditions – and if bosses retaliate, they face dire consequences. Miners should bring witnesses when speaking with management about dust.
It is illegal to fire a worker expressly for having black lung or for reasonably refusing unhealthful work. But our laws go even further.