The State Government will establish a Parliamentary inquiry into the re-emergence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or ‘black lung’ disease, in Queensland.
Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said he was responding to stakeholder input.
“I have listened to the workers, to the industry, to the doctors, to my departmental advisors and independent experts,” he said.
“A focused Parliamentary select committee will provide the scrutiny Queenslanders expect of an open and transparent Palaszczuk Government, without distracting from the immediate priority: fixing the issue.”
‘Last thing we need’ – QRC
But Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the coal industry believed resources could be better used through measures other than a ‘lawyers-driven’ inquiry.
“As I have said previously when asked about the merits of a “Royal Commission”, it is industry’s view that all the resources of government, industry and the relevant sections of the medical profession need to be deployed to the urgent task of fixing the system and ensuring the health of coal workers,” Mr Roche said.
“The last thing we need now is to distract all those parties from this task by tying them up in a lawyers-driven inquiry.
“There may be merit down the track in getting an independent view of ‘what went wrong’, but now is not the time.”
Committee set up within 30 days
Dr Lynham said the select committee inquiry would be established within 30 days. The select committee will have the standard powers of a Parliamentary committee to hear evidence, call witnesses, order documents to be provided and will report back to the Parliament.
“My first priority continues to be the concerted action under way now to tackle this insidious disease,” Dr Lynham said.
“A Parliamentary select committee inquiry can only further inform our efforts to protect the health and safety of our 5500 underground coal workers.”
Dr Lynham said progress continued on tackling the re-emergence of the disease in line with the three-pronged approach he announced with doctors, employers and union last month.
“Together we are focusing on prevention through dust management, early detection through better screening, and a safety net through workers’ compensation.
“Underground coal miners now have a screening guarantee – new chest X-rays, or re-reading, of x-rays that are less than two years old.
“We have a new double-checking procedure, where x-rays are read by an Australian radiologist to ILO standard and, as an interim measure, then by a US-based reader. The first 30 x-rays to be read under this system have already been digitally transferred to the US.
“Current and past miners who visit their GP with concerns can be confident that their GP has received detailed information from Queensland’s Chief Medical Officer alerting them to the re-emergence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.
“Intensive training is being developed for the medical practitioners who conduct the health assessments of coal miners under the health scheme.
“Miners’ medical data will be captured and stored digitally. It is proposed that employers will be compulsorily required to report cases to government.”
Industry appalled by failings
Mr Roche said the coal industry was appalled by what was found by the Monash Review into the respiratory component of the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme.
“A process everyone associated with the industry – unions, mining companies, regulators and the medical profession – and had faith in; was in fact deeply flawed and failed to detect early signs of CWP in some coal workers. Government, industry and the medical profession are working hard to overcome those flaws as quickly as possible,” he said.
“The coal industry in Queensland has taken this matter very seriously and acted expeditiously to ensure that workers are able to have their recent chest x-rays re-read by two experts – one local and one in the USA – and other workers have been offered a new chest x-ray, under this dual reading arrangement. This process is already well underway.
“The coal industry is co-operating fully with the regulator on ensuring compliance with dust standards.”