Black lung is returning with force to the miners of Appalachia. Coal companies have fought against meaningful reforms (or even recognizing it exists) for over a century, and longer if you go back to the coal mines of 19th century England.* The only time workers have ever managed a major breakthrough was with the passage of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, which coincided with a larger move toward meaningful workplace safety reform at a time when social tumult (including grassroots activism against an unresponsive union leadership) combined with economic prosperity to create a new set of demands for working people. The Mine Safety and Health Administration made real progress against black lung. But new technologies have increased exposure to the increasingly few workers in the mines and black lung rates are rising again. The MSHA hasn’t done anything to stop it because the coal industry cares far more about stopping meaningful reform than any equally powerful consistency does about pushing it through.
*Read Alan Derickson’s Black Lung, if you are interested in this issue. Which you should be.