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Labor Dept. Strengthens |Protections for Miners

(CN) - The Labor Department's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs on Tuesday published a final rule to strengthen health safeguards for coal miners.

The rule makes significant revisions to the regulations implementing the Black Lung Benefits Act that will give miners greater access to their health information, bolster the accuracy of claims decisions, and require coal mine companies to pay all disability or survivor's benefits due in a claim before modification can challenge the award, the department said.

"This rule makes clear that coal miners have a right to know a full picture of their health." said Office of Workers' Compensation Programs Director Leonard Howie in a written statement.

"No workers should lose their lives because of known dangers that were kept from them in the interest of their employers," he said.

Under the final rule published Tuesday in the Federal Register, parties who fail to share any medical data they develop about the miner are subject to sanctions. Additionally, the final rule reinforces coal mine companies' obligations to pay benefits under existing orders while the modification proceedings to challenge orders are underway.

The rule allows coal companies one year from the last payment of benefits to seek reconsideration of an effective order awarding disability or survivor's benefits.

Although they are legally obligated to pay benefits while challenging these awards, coal companies commonly refuse to do so. The final rule requires the operator to pay before they can challenge the award through the act's modification procedures.

Finally, the rule makes several changes to existing regulations. To support miners who submit multiple physicians' reports for the same claim, the rule clarifies that those supplemental reports are a continuation of the physician's earlier report for the purpose of department's evidence-limiting rules.

The rule also includes a change allowing the Labor Department to participate fully in the adjudication process when a liable coal operator stops its participation due to adverse financial developments, such as bankruptcy or insolvency.

The mission of the Division of Coal Mine Workers' Compensation, the federal Black Lung Program, is to administer claims filed under the Black Lung Benefits Act.

The act provides compensation to coal miners who are totally disabled by pneumoconiosis arising out of coal mine employment, eligible survivors of miners whose death was attributable to or hastened by pneumoconiosis and survivors of miners who were entitled to benefits at the time of their death. The act also provides eligible miners with coverage for medical treatment of lung diseases arising out of coal mine employment.

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