State Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) today announced his introduction of House Bill (HB) 167, legislation to ensure coal miners and their families receive fair disability compensation should they contract black lung disease during their careers. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, rates of black lung disease among Appalachian coal miners are the highest they have been in 40 years.

“Black lung disease is a tough reality for many of Ohio’s coal miners, men and women who work some of our state’s most difficult and dangerous jobs,” said Rep. Cera. “This bill will give miners and their families a fair way to access benefits as they deal with this debilitating disease. I hope my colleagues in the Ohio General Assembly will agree on the importance of making this fix to the current process.”

Black lung disease, also known as coal miner’s occupational pneumoconiosis, is caused by inhaling coal dust, severely impairs lung function, and decreases quality of life. The federal government and many states have laws in place to provide workers’ compensation, benefits or both to individuals who contract the disease during their employment. However, in Ohio, disability claims connected to black lung disease often take too long to process and are not approved until after the miner’s death, if at all.

HB 167 would create a worker’s compensation process for those with black lung similar to one already in place in West Virginia, which allows partial disability for miners afflicted with black lung disease. Rep. Cera’s legislation would establish different categories of disability with varying benefit amounts.

“A miner who lives in Ohio but worked in West Virginia can currently receive at least partial benefits through West Virginia, but a miner who lives and works in Ohio has a harder time getting approved for benefits,” said Cera. “This bill will give miners who have contracted black lung a better chance of receiving the benefits they deserve to help support them through their illness.”

Under HB 167, individuals must have been exposed to the hazards of coal mining for a specified, continuous time period. Applications for benefits must be filed within three years after either (1) the last day of the last continuous period of 60 days or more during which the employee was exposed to the hazards of occupational pneumoconiosis or (2) a diagnosed impairment due to occupational pneumoconiosis was made known to the employee by a physician. 

HB 167 would also create a new Occupational Pneumoconiosis Board tasked with determining all medical questions relating to workers’ compensation claims for compensation and benefits for occupational pneumoconiosis. The board, made up of five certified internists or pulmonary physicians, will investigate all individual cases of black lung and issue written reports to the employers in question.

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