A coal worker who was twice cleared by Australian medical professionals of having “black lung” has become the 15th confirmed case of the disease to emerge in Queensland since May 2015, the mining union says.
CFMEU Mining and Energy Division Queensland District president Stephen Smyth said the system was still in crisis and failing to identify black lung disease despite a supposed focus on the illness.
“It is unbelievable that this disease was missed twice by Australian health professionals in less than a year,” Mr Smyth said.
“Even when black lung disease expert Dr Bob Cohen told them it was there they still couldn’t identify it. That’s a nominated medical assessor, and a radiologist who have missed this disease and let a worker go back into dangerous and dusty conditions underground.
“This failure shows that the black lung crisis is escalating and why coalmine workers have lost all confidence in the health and regulatory systems that are supposed to be there to keep them safe.”
The CFMEU said the miner in question had worked in underground longwall mines for 36 years – most recently in the Carborough Downs mine in Central Queensland, where four other cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis have been identified.
Despite being given a clear bill of health by medical professionals following an x-ray in May 2015, the disease was picked up months later when the mine commenced a full review of all existing medical records with internationally recognised black lung disease expert Dr Bob Cohen, from the United States, the union said.
Dr Cohen had called for further tests to be done, howeve, Queensland medical professionals cleared the following CT scan conducted in March 2016.
Considering that the system was still failing to identify black lung disease, and in some cases coalmine workers did not want to put their jobs and livelihoods at risk by coming forward, it was impossible to know how many more cases there could be, Mr Smyth said.
The Department of Natural Resources and Mines has confirmed the 15th case of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis but said details would not be made public in accordance with section 52 of the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation 2001.
A department spokesman said the x-ray screening system had improved significantly, with all coal miners’ chest x-rays now being read twice – once by an Australian radiologist and again by a US-based National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approved reader.
More than 300 x-rays have already been sent to the US to be double-checked under the new system.
DNRM is also implementing the 17 recommendations of the independent Monash University review of the coal workers’ health scheme.