First Black lung disease since the 1970s confirmed in NSW

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The NSW Department of Industry Resources regulator has confirmed it has been alerted its first case of black lung disease since the 1970s.

The person affected with the disease worked in several open cut mines in NSW and left the industry in 2014.

“Even though this insidious disease has not been confirmed in NSW for decades, one case of pneumoconiosis is one case too many,” said Resources Regulator Chief Compliance Officer Lee Shearer.

“The priority is to ensure the worker is getting the best possible level of support and care, and as part of this process, I ask that we respect the worker’s request to maintain their absolute privacy.

“Further, the Major Investigation Unit of the Resources Regulator is investigating how this case has happened and if there have been any breaches of the work health and safety laws.

“If breaches of the work health and safety laws are identified, enforcement action will be taken. This investigation can also determine if there are learnings or changes to our practices that will reduce the chance of further cases developing.”

Lucy Flemming, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Coal Services said that while there are still no other cases of black lung in NSW, past and present workers may contact Coal Health Services in 02 6571 9900 to arrange a medical.

“Our approach is a combination of the most rigorous coal dust exposure limits in Australia, legislated requirements for achieving minimum standards of ventilation, monitoring of airborne contaminants in the worker environment and prescribed worker health monitoring regimes for exposure to airborne dust.

“Workers receive periodic health surveillance every three years. Outside of the placement, medical assessments are undertaken for all coal mine workers prior to commencing employment and ongoing assessments are offered to workers after they leave the industry.

“Workers’ health is the absolute priority and this latest news only serves to demonstrate the utmost importance of such strict regulations.”

Mixed Dust Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis is caused by prolonged and close exposure to respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal mine dust.

“Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis is a preventable disease if appropriate dust control, atmospheric monitoring, and worker monitoring measures are in place at mines,” said Ms. Shearer.

“The NSW model of prevention, detection, enforcement and education is essential in protecting workers in the NSW coal industry from harm in the future. Controlling dust exposure, monitoring and ongoing health surveillance are vital components of the prevention and detection strategies that are in place and enforced in NSW.”

Ms. Flemming said regular health surveillance is important for former and current NSW coal mine workers.

“Prevention and education is the key – mine operators must have strong dust elimination and mitigation controls in place, workers should wear personal protective equipment and attend medicals even after they leave the industry,” she said.

“Our primary focus for the immediate future is working together to provide the appropriate care, support and best possible medical attention to the affected worker.”

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