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Original Article

Industrial Health 2005, 43, 277284

Assessment of Respirable Dust and its Free Silica


Contents in Different Indian Coalmines
Ashit K. MUKHERJEE1*, Sanat K. BHATTACHARYA1 and Habibullah N. SAIYED2
1
2

Regional Occupational Health Center (Eastern), Block DP, Sector V, Salt Lake, Kolkata 700091, India
National Institute of Occupational Health, Meghani Nagar, Ahmedabad 380016, India
Received October 21, 2003 and accepted December 22, 2004

Abstract: Assessment of respirable dust, personal exposures of miners and free silica contents in
dust were undertaken to find out the associated risk of coal workers pneumoconiosis in 9 coal mines
of Eastern India during 198891. Mine Research Establishment (MRE), 113A Gravimetric Dust
Sampler (GDS) and personal samplers (AFC 123), Cassella, London, approved by Director General
of Mines Safety (DGMS) were used respectively for monitoring of mine air dust and personal
exposures of miners. Fourier Transform Infra-red (FTIR) Spectroscopy determined free silica in
respirable dusts. Thermal Conditions like Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) index, humidity
and wind velocity were also recorded during monitoring. The dust levels in the face return air of
both, Board & Pillar (B&P) and Long Wall (LW) mining were found above the permissible level
recommended by DGMS, Govt. of India. The drilling, blasting and loading are the major dusty
operations in B&P method. Exposures of driller and loader were varied between, 0.819.48 mg/m3
and 0.059.84 mg/m3 respectively in B&P mining, whereas exposures of DOSCO loader, Shearer
operator and Power Support Face Worker were varied between 2.659.11 mg/m3, 0.2210.00 mg/m3
and 0.129.32 mg/m3 respectively in LW mining. In open cast mining, compressor and driller
operators are the major exposed groups. The percentage silica in respirable dusts found below 5%
in all most all the workers except among query loaders and drillers of open cast mines.
Key words: Coalmine, Working face, Respirable dust, Personal exposure, Threshold limit value, Free
silica

Introduction
Coal is prime source of energy in India. There are about
5.5 lakhs of employees engaged in about 500 coalmines in
different coalfields of India. Eastern coalfields of West
Bengal contribute about 18.11 million tonnes of higher-grade
coal from 114 mines compared to the total production of
229 million tonnes (199192) to meet the demands of loco
and other industries. In India coal is produced both
underground and open cast mining but present thrust is being
given to increase open cast mining where gestation period
is much shorter (Indian Mineral year book (IMYB), 1994).
A focus on the Occupational hazards and overall condition
*To whom correspondence should be addressed.

prevailing in Indian coalmines are felt to be important.


Simple Coal workers pneumoconiosis (SCWP) and
progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) are the major
occupational respiratory diseases of coal miners caused due
to exposure to respirable dust generated during various
mining operations. The concentration of respirable coal dust,
the period of exposure and free silica content are important
factors associated with pneumoconiosis risks. Assessment
of respirable dust in coalmines and its control are of primary
importance to undertake preventive measures. Available
report on dust assessment and sampling strategies adopted
in mines indicated that during, 19491970, thermal
precipitators were mostly used in British coal mines whereas
personal impingers in US coal mines. So both these types
of samplings were also used in Indian Coal mines for dust

278
assessment and the standards were based on number of
particles per cubic centimeters. The concentration on number
basis led to some anomalies in dose-response relationships
and it was observed that the incidence of Pneumoconiosis
was better correlated with concentration on mass basis than
the number count (Johannesburg Pneumoconiosis
Conference, 1959) and thus standard based on respirable
particle mass concentration was recommended1).
Since 1970 onwards, the new Gravimetric Dust Sampler
(GDS), Type 113A, capable to collect 50% of 5 m equivalent
diameter and upper cut off at 7.1 m as per British Medical
Research Council (BMRC) designed and developed jointly
by National Coal Board (NCB) and Mines Research
Establishment (MRE), UK, was approved for statutory
sampling in UK mines after extensive field trials2, 3). In USA
coalmine Personal repairable dust samplers capable to collect
particles of size 10 m and below were used for particle
mass concentration. Similarly, in India both GDS and personal
sampling methods were used during early eighties4, 5). Several
epidemiological studies conducted in different countries
reported a reducing trend of pneumoconiosis mortality since
last two decades due to gradual reduction in dust levels at
work faces through stringent control measures610). There
are number of scattered studies reported in Indian coalmines
by different agencies and the prevalence of the disease varied
widely from one another to draw any definite conclusion
on the prevalence, distribution and determinants of the
disease1113). Roy KB, 1956 first reported pneumoconiosis
cases in bituminous coal mines of Madhya Pradesh prior to
that it was presumed occupational diseases like silicosis,
pneumoconiosis were not properly diagnosed in India14).
Two types of mining methods of extraction, conventional
Board & Pillar (B&P) and long wall (LW) or continuous
are generally adopted in Indian mines. With increasing
demand of coal as major source of energy, the coal mining
in India advanced in phased manner from manual pick mining
to semi-mechanised and mechanised processes by inducting
newer mining machineries leading towards higher
productions and accordingly the concentration of respirable
dust in working face increased with increased mechanisation.
In conventional mining coals are extracted by mining
processes like drilling, blasting, loading and timbering where
workers work in groups to complete the extraction process.
Coal cutting machines are also used in B&P for loosening
the coal strata followed by blasting to win coal from coal
seams. In case of LW, the coal is mined by driving the
DOSCO heads and Shearer machine through the coal seam.
The loosened coals fall on the conveyer belt and transferred
to the surface through different transfer points. The movable

AK MUKHERJEE et al.
steel props support the roof immediate to the coal seam and
the roof behind the work-face is allowed to fall. These mining
operations generate large quantities of fine particulate in
the respirable range <10 m to which the miners are exposed.
Besides, there is another mining process of winning the coal
called open cast (OC), which involves extraction of coal
from coal strata, by removing earth and rock layers from
surface (over burden).
A permissible limit of exposure is developed based on
the dust dose, duration of exposure and incidence of
pneumoconiosis by most of the countries. In Indian
coalmines the Directorate of Mines Safety (DGMS), Govt.
of India, has prescribed a dust concentration of 3 mg/m3.
The sampling guidelines recommended the NCB/MRE GDS
sampler, type 113A for monitoring of air borne dust in Indian
mines and personal sampler giving same cut off characteristic
curve as BMRC for assessment of dust dose of individual
workers during work shift.
This study reports assessment of respirable dust in mine
air, personal exposures of different categories of workers
in mines and silica content in the personal dust, thermal
conditions and air ventilation to furnish an overall conditions
of Indian coal mines.

Methods
Environmental monitoring in 9 different types of
conventional and mechanied coal mines in Eastern India
was undertaken for assessment of respirable dust during
198891. Area dust levels in B&P and LW at working coal
faces (within 10 m), main intake (30 m out bye of the first
working face) and main return air (not more than 30 m from
the last working face) were assessed by using the MRE,
113A GDS, facing the ventilation current. The instrument
was placed at breathing level away from the sides of roadway to ensure the safety of the instrument. Area dusts samples
were collected on 47 mm GF/A, Whatman glass fiber filter
fitted within an aluminium rim. During the area sampling
of different mining operations like drilling, blasting, loading,
GDS samplers were placed where the workers were at work.
Personal exposures of different category of miners (engaged
in conventional, mechanised or open cast mining) were
assessed by attaching the AFC 123 Personal samplers
(Cassella, London) to the lapel of the workers for entire
shift and the time spent in actual work and rest periods were
recorded for each category of worker as per Sampling
guidelines, DGMS, 198815). Personal dust samples were
collected on 37 mm GF/A, glass fiber filter for general
purpose but 37 mm (Whatman) cellulose membrane filter

Industrial Health 2005, 43, 277284

279

AIRBORNE RESPIRABLE DUST & FREE SILICA IN COAL MINE


Table 1. Dust levels (mg/m3) in different areas of underground coalmines as obtained by Gravimetric
Dust Sampler (MRE 113A)
Method of
Mining

Respirable Dust Concentration


(Mean & Range)

% Exceeding
Permissible Level

Main Intake
Face Return
Main Return

B&P*

2
57
15

1.37 (0.62.1)
4.43 (0.410.0)
2.17 (0.44.2)

63.1%
20.0%

Main Intake
Face Return
Main Return

LW**

7
49
16

1.93 (0.06.8)
3.39 (0.19.1)
2.20 (0.15.6)

28.5%
38.7%
31.2%

Mine Area

*Board & Pillar, **Long Wall.

Table 2. Dust concentrations at working coal faces during different mining operations as obtained by
Gravimetric Dust Sampler (MRE 113A, Casella)
Mining Process

Duration of actual work (Min.)

Concentration

% exceeding TLV

Drilling Operation

12

120

75.0

Blasting Operation

10

125

Loading Operation

13

170

4.8
1.68.4
3.1
1.94.4
2.7
1.06.0

60.0
61.5

n = No. of samples.

was used for free silica estimations. The respirable dusts


collected on the membrane filters were treated for by Fourier
Transform Infra-red (FTIR) Spectroscopy. Sample
preparation for silica estimation was done by ashing the
samples at 600C followed by mixing the ash thoroughly
with 200 mg of potassium bromide (KBr) with the pestle.
The mixture was transferred to 13 mm evaluable pallet die,
it was pressed using standard technique and Maghetti sampler
holder was used for studying spectra in the wave length range,
1015 m and the calibration was done at wave lengths 12.5
and 12.8 m16). Thermal Condition like WBGT index, drybulb, wet-bulb and humidity were obtained by WBGT
thermometer (Cassella, London) and wind velocities were
recorded during the course of monitoring by using an
Anemometer (Cassella, London).

Results
Table 1 shows the dust levels at main intake air, face return
and main return air of coal mines of two different mining
methods of working, B&P and LW. Mean dust levels in the
coal face return air of both B&P and LW mining were
obtained above the permissible limit, 3 mg/m 3 as
recommended by DGMS, GOVT. of India. 63.1% of values

of respirable dust at coal face return air in B&P were found


above the permissible limit whereas in LW 38.7% of the
values exceeded the limit. The main return of both the mining
methods however showed dust concentration below the
permissible limit though 20.0% and 31.2% of the values
respectively in B&P and LW were above the limit.
Table 2 shows the dust levels of three major mining
operations drilling, blasting and loading. Drilling was found
to be the most dusty operation producing a mean dust level
of 4.81 mg/m3 above the permissible limit and a range of
1.638.35 mg/m3. Blasting is the next dusty process of the
coal mining producing higher mean dust level above
permissible limit, 3.13 mg/m3 in the range, 1.854.42 mg/
m3, followed by loading operation.
Table 3 shows the dust exposure for different categories
of coal miners in B&P, LW and open cast (OC) mining.
Mean personal exposures of driller, timber mistry and loaders
were found to be 4.36, 3.11 and 3.03 mg/m3 respectively
having an exposure range between 0.819.48, 0.996.92 and
0.059.48 mg/m3 for these groups. These groups were found
to be the major exposed group in B&P and 65.1% of the
total number of estimated samples of driller, 39.1% of timber
mistry and 43.9% of samples of loaders were recorded above
the prescribed permissible limit for miners. Other group of

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AK MUKHERJEE et al.

Table 3. Dust exposures of different category of coal miners in different types of mining By personal sampler (AFC 123, Casella)
Board & Pillar
Category
of
Workers

Long Wall

Dust Level
Values
(mg/m3)
Exceeding
Mean & Range
TLV

Category
of
Workers

Open cast

Dust Level
Values
(mg/m3)
Exceeding
Mean & Range
TLV

Category
of
Workers

Dust Level
Values
(mg/m3)
Exceeding
Mean & Range
TLV

Driller
(n=43)

4.4
0.89.5

65.1%

Dosco Operator
(n=11)

2.5
0.38.6

27.2%

Drill Operator
(n=17)

2.9
0.47.3

41.1%

Explosive gang
(n=29)

2.9
0.19.8

41.4%

Shearer Operator
(n=11)

3.6
0.210.0

45.4%

Compressor
Operator (n=3)

4.3
0.57.4

66.6%

Trammers
(n=31)

1.1
0.12.7

Nil

Power Support
Face Worker (n=31)

3.4
0.19.3

38.7%

Dumper Operator
1.8
(n=14)
0.55.7

7.1%

CCM Driver
(n=11)

1.7
0.25.0

18.2%

DOSCO Face
Worker (n=12)

2.4
0.15.4

33.3%

Shovel Operator
(n=11)

1.4
0.22.9

Nil

CCM Helper
(n=15)

2.1
0.25.2

20%

DOSCO
Loader (n=6)

4.7
2.79.1

66.6%

Dozer Operator
(n=6)

2.5
0.57.5

16.6%

Timber Mistry
(n=23)

3.1
1.07.0

39.1%

Quarry Loader
(n=33)

1.9
0.16.5

24.2%

Line mistry
(n=9)

0.7
0.11.9

Nil

Wagon Loader
(n=36)

1.3
0.23.9

11.1%

Mining sardar
(n=3)

1.6
0.22.6

Nil

General Mazdoor
(n=17)

3.2
0.69.6

47.0%

Overman
(n=4)

1.7
0.74.00

25%

Surface Trammer
(n=4)

1.1
0.41.4

Nil

Stone cutter
(n=8)

0.9
0.22.0

Nil

Loader
(n=41)

3.0
0.19.8

43.9%

workers like explosive gang, CCM drivers, and helpers were


exposed to dust level values higher than permissible standard
by 41.4%, 18.2% and 20% respectively out of the total
depending upon the available working faces in any particular
day. The categories of workers like trammer, line man, line
mistry, mining sardar who are generally not confined always
to coal face during work are exposed to dust well within the
permissible limit. In LW higher mean exposure above the
limit were observed for the categories of workers like shearer
operator. (3.50 mg/m3), face workers power support (3.38
mg/m3), DOSCO loaders (4.65 mg/m3). Almost all the
categories of workers in LW were having very high maximum
value in their exposure range. In case of OC mining, the
mean dust exposure for general majdoor (3.18 mg/m3),
compressor operator (4.26 mg/m3) and drill operator (2.89
mg/m3) were found to be the major exposed group having
exposure mostly above the limit whereas other workers were
having a lower mean exposure. The highest values obtained
in the exposure range of most of the OC workers were found

above the permissible limit. A bar diagram shown in Fig. 1


(a), (b) and (c) for the exposures of different categories of
miners in three types of mining, B&P, LW and OC.
Table 4 gives the silica content (%) of airborne dust in
different mines, B&P, LW, and OC. Airborne dust of OC
mines was found to contain higher mean silica percentage
above 5% than the other mining methods. 25% of the total
estimated samples for silica found above 5% in OC and 12.5%
in case of LW mining and nil in case of B&P.
Mine wise records of thermal parameters showed that the
mean dry-bulb (DB) were 30.6C and 29.4C in B&P and
LW and mean relative humidity (RH%) in these mines were
recorded to be 94% and 85% in respectively. Table 5 shows
the number and percentage of observations exceeded the
recommended ACGIH TLV (199596) of WBGT index in
B&P and LW mining for different types of continuous
physical work. 87.1% and 92.7% values of total WBGT
records found above 25C, the recommended TLV of
continuous heavy nature of work in B&P and LW mining

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AIRBORNE RESPIRABLE DUST & FREE SILICA IN COAL MINE

Fig. 1. Personal dust exposure of different categories of worker in Board & Piller, Long wall and Open Cast
mining.
N.B.: op=operator; L=loader; FW=face worker; FWPS=Face Worker Power support; CCM=coal cutting machine;
Tim=timber; Exp=Explosive.

Table 4. Free Silica Content (%) of air-borne mine dust according to method of working
Mining Method

Min

Max

Mean

% of samples, > 5% Silica

Board & Pillar (4 Mines)


Long Wall (2 Mines)
Open Cast (2 Mines)

29
8
16

0.1
0.4
1.1

4.6
12.5
17.4

1.2
2.7
5.3

Nil
12.5
25

n = No. of samples.

Table 5. Number and percentage of observations exceeding the values


recommended in ACGIH TLV (199596) of Wet Bulb Globe Temperature
(WBGT) index for different types of work in underground coal mines
WBGT Index

Mining Method

Number of
observations

> 25.0C

> 26.7C

> 30C

Board & Pillar


Long wall

369
123

345 (87.1%)
114 (92.7%)

322 (81.3%)
109 (88.6%)

38 (9.6%)
13 (10.6%)

respectively, whereas 81.3% and 88.6% respectively in B&P


and LW mining were above 26.7C which is the
recommended TLV for continuous moderate physical work.
9.6% of WBGT observations in B&P and 10.6% in LW
exceeded 30C, which is the TLV for continuous light
physical work (ACGIH, 199596).
Table 6 presents the wind velocities in underground
coalmines according to the mining methods. 15.4% of
observations in B&P and 50% in LW showed stagnant values
(i.e, wind velocities < 10 ft./min.) at working faces. 83.9%
and 42.9% of observations in respectively B&P and LW
showed low wind velocities well below 300 ft./min. These
high and low wind velocities have been classified as per the
recommendations of the Standard Advisory Committee

(SAC) on heat stress17).

Discussion
Mean Reparable dust concentrations in the coal face return
air of B&P and LW mining found above the prescribed Indian
Standard of 3 mg/m3 (Table 1). In both types of mining,
dust concentration at main return air showed lower values
than the recommended standard. Air ventilation in the mines
plays a very important role in maintaining a steady dustiness
below permissible limit as well as personal comfort or thermal
stress to the workers engaged in the area. Inadequate wind
velocity may not be able to sweep away the finer coal
particulate generate at the coal working faces. In most of

282

AK MUKHERJEE et al.
Table 6. Wind velocity pattern in underground coal mines according to mining methods
Mining Methods
& Area of
Measurement
Board & Pillar
Intake air
Working Face
Return Air
Long Wall
Intake air
Working Face
Return Air

Stagnant
(010 ft./min.)

Low wind velocity


(11300 ft./min.)

High wind velocity


(> 300 ft./min.)

No. (%)

No. (%)

No. (%)

56
143
76

1 (1.8)
22 (15.4)
1 (1.32)

6 (46.4)
120 (83.9)
71 (93.4)

29 (51.8)
1 (0.0)
4 (5.2)

41
14
37

0 (0)
7 (50.0)
1 (2.7)

39 (95.1)
6 (42.9)
27 (73.0)

2 (4.9)
1 (7.1)
9 (24.3)

n*

n = No. of samples.

the cases, the wind velocity recorded in both the mining,


were either stagnant or low i.e; < 300 ft./min (Table 6). The
working faces that are far away from the main intake air
and the ventilated air passes through diversions before
reaching the working faces, wind velocity drops down to
almost a stagnant air. Water spray after blasting operation
reduces the dust level at work face to a large extent. In
conventional mining, drillers are the most affected group
with higher personal exposure above permissible limit as
they work very close the dust source. In built water spray
system attached to the drill machine should be in operation
during drilling. As evident from the personal exposure of
workers in LW, shearer operator, power support face worker
and DOSCO loaders were having higher exposures than the
recommended value (Table 3). The water spraying system
attached to the shear machine mostly found to be not working
might be the cause of higher dust in LW. The bar diagram
(Fig. 1) has very well depicted the exposures of the miners at
a glance in all the three types of mining. Workers engaged in
LW and OC have higher dust exposures above the permissible
limit and also contain free silica more than 5% in their personal
dust are at a greater risk of SCWP and PMF1820). LW and
OC miners have greater risk of silica exposure than B&P
during the process of coal extraction from coal seams as it
passes through the stone drivages having higher quartz
percentage. It is also evident that 12.5% of the samples of
LW and 25% of the samples of OC showed silica content
more than 5% and hence these workers are at greater risk of
pneumoconiosis (Tables 3 and 4). In studies conducted earlier
in US mines, higher percentage (> 5%) of quartz exposure
was noticed among driller, LW machine operators, roof
bolters21, 22). In a study Parobeck and Tomb (1974) showed
the distribution in different range of respirable dust
concentrations in US underground mines and surface

operations and observed that majority of the values were at


or below 2 mg/m3 23). In another study, Goldberg et al. (1973)
observed that the quartz content in the respirable dust during
underground coal mining was only about 1% of the samples,
having above 5% quartz in US underground mines24). It
was also observed that if the respirable coal dust levels in
the mines are regularly maintained at 2 mg/m3, the probability
of developing the disease during working life of the exposed
workers are minimised to zero. The respirable dust
concentrations of the present study measured in the Indian
mines correspond well with the findings of the US and UK
mines. The thermal environment in side the coal mines found
to be hot and humid and the maximum observations of WBGT
index, above 26.7C, were indicative of the fact that the
mining environment is non-conductive for heavy and
moderate nature of continuous work, the low ventilation at
coal working work faces which are the site of dust generation
may pose additional problem of dust hazard along with the
thermal stress to the workers.

Conclusion
The respirable dust levels as observed in the conventional
and mechanised Indian coalmines need to be controlled at
coalfaces which always been found very dusty during mining
operations. The dust concentrations in both these mining
showed comparable results. The drilling, blasting and loading
are the major dusty operations of B&P working method.
The drillers, loaders and explosive gang are the higher
exposed groups in B&P mining, DOSCO loaders, Shearer
operators in LW mining and compressor operators in OC
mining are the major exposed groups. The in-built water
spray with the drilling machine always be made effective
to reduce dust exposure. The free silica content of respirable

Industrial Health 2005, 43, 277284

AIRBORNE RESPIRABLE DUST & FREE SILICA IN COAL MINE


dust in Indian mines found mostly less than 5% and hence
a strict maintenance of the exposure at work within the
recommended permissible standard of 3 mg/m3 will enable
to control the risk of pneumoconiosis among workers. In
LW mining, during operation of shearer, the water jet system
should work efficiently to control the exposure of the machine
operators and face workers who are close to the coalface.
The parameters, WBGT index and wind velocity reported
are newer items studied in Indian mines and are very much
relevant to miners thermal stress and dust exposure at work
faces.

7)

Acknowledgements

9)

The authors express their sincere thanks to International


Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada and Indian
Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi for
providing necessary fund for instruments, equipment used
and manpower required for the project. Authors are also
thankful to Sri S Ahmed, Sri S K Roy (Technicians) and Sri
S Thakur (Laboratory Assistant) of the Centre for their sincere
help and co-operation in carrying out environmental
monitoring in mines and preparation of the manuscript. The
authors also extend their sincere thanks to Dr S K Kashyap,
Ex. Director National Institute of Occupational Health,
Ahmedabad for extending the facility of Fourier Transform
Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy for free silica estimation.

8)

10)

11)
12)

13)

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