lungsA federal rule restricting workers’ compensation claims to black lung diagnoses based only on film radiographs has been updated to embrace the digital age.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs has published for public comment a direct final rule and a companion proposed rule adopting updated standards for administering and interpreting digital radiographs for the Federal Black Lung Program. The new rules will enable physicians who perform diagnostic testing of miner-claimants to use more modern medical technology to conduct a complete pulmonary evaluation.

Physicians use chest X-rays as a tool to evaluate whether a coal miner suffers from pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease.

The standards for administering and interpreting chest X-rays now in place address only film radiographs. As a result, only film X-rays were easily admissible in benefit-claim proceedings. But film-based technology is rapidly being replaced by digital radiography in medical facilities, and the number of physicians conducting diagnostic testing with older equipment has declined. The revised rules would allow both film and digital x-rays to be given equal importance in claims adjudication.

Saves time, expands list of providers

"Digital radiography enhances our ability to determine the presence of black lung disease in a timely manner for coal miners and their families, which will in turn allow us to reduce the time required to make decisions on benefit eligibility," said Gary A. Steinberg, acting director of OWCP. "By adding digital X-ray imaging to the current film technology, all parties benefit from an expanded list of approved diagnostic providers. It will also reduce OWCP's processing costs and give the parties greater access to modern medical technology."

OWCP based the new digital X-ray standards on those adopted last year by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for its Coal Mine Workers' Health Surveillance Program. NIOSH is the department's adviser for developing medical tests for Black Lung Benefits Act claims.

The revised rule will also update existing film radiology standards.

Both the direct final rule and the proposed rule can be viewed at Interested parties may submit comments online at or through the other methods listed in the Federal Register until August 13, 2013.