Dec 18, 2016

Reforms in 2017 to tackle ‘black lung’

Reforms in 2017 to tackle ‘black lung’

January 1 is set to usher in a suite of health and safety reforms designed to help protect Queensland coal miners from ‘black lung’ disease.

Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said coal health and safety laws would see dust levels made public, compulsory health checks for underground and above-ground miners and compulsory reporting of black lung cases to government.

“These regulatory changes are a critical element of our commitment to detect and prevent all forms of coal mine dust lung disease – including coal workers’ pneumoconiosis,” Dr Lynham said.

“This is a disease that does not belong in the 21st century and I am determined to continue to work with industry, unions and doctors to protect our coal miners.”

Under the new regulations:

  • all new coal mine workers will undergo a health assessment, including respiratory function and chest x-ray examinations, on entry into the industry – enabling doctors to detect changes that may occur over time.
  • above-ground coal mine workers will undergo a chest x-ray and respiratory function test at least once every 10 years. If they have worked underground, it will be at least every five years.
  • companies will be required to provide dust monitoring data to the Mines Inspectorate every three months
  • an advisory committee of industry, union and government representatives will review the data and it will be published online.
  • black lung will become a notifiable disease, meaning mining companies must report known cases to the Queensland Mines Inspectorate.
  • coal mine workers permanently retiring from the industry can now ask their employer for a retirement examination, including respiratory function and chest x-ray examination.
  • chest x-ray examinations to be performed in accordance with International Labour Organisation guidelines.

The tougher regulations are part of the three-pronged approach announced in July to:

  • prevent new cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis
  • identify existing cases early
  • provide a safety net for workers with the disease.

“Following the introduction of the dual reading screening system in July 2016, more than 2,000 coal mine worker chest x-rays have been read first by an Australian radiologist, and then sent to be read by US-based National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approved readers.

“This system ensures every worker’s chest x-ray is examined independently by at least two medical experts.

“I encourage any mine worker – past or present – who has concerns about their respiratory health to see their doctor,” Dr Lynham said.

Eighteen Queensland miners have been diagnosed with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, which is caused by long-term exposure to respirable coal dust.

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