Queensland’s Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr. Anthony Lynham this week has revealed a new plan to protect workers from coal worker’s pneumoconiosis or black lung disease.
The key three action plan was announced after 11 Queensland miners have been diagnosed with black lung, which is caused by long-term exposure to high concentrations of coal dust.
“Every worker has a right to go to work and return home to their family, safe and healthy,” said Dr. Lynham.
“This has not happened for our underground coal workers, and that’s not good enough.
“This measures that employers, unions, government, and doctors have now developed together with Monash University and international expertise, will deliver the best-practice prevention, monitoring and screening system that our miners deserve.”
The action areas include prevention, which includes stricter dust management and publishing dust levels regularly; early detection through better screening through the support of the state’s underground coal mine companies and doctors.
“A miner with the first stages of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis may have no symptoms, but should not continue to work in a dusty environment, so the disease doesn’t progress,” said Dr. Lynham.
“Early detection through an effective screening program is critical to protecting the current workforce.
As part of this plan, all underground coal mines are offering their workers new checks on current x-rays or fresh x-rays if the x-ray was taken more than two years ago. All new tests will be conducted twice by an Australian radiologist, and by US-based accredited x-ray readers until local radiologists undergo training to the international standard.
There will be intensive training for general practitioners who conduct the health assessment of coal miners regularly. There will also be a focus on the lung function test that miners do as part of their health assessments.
Medical data will be obtained and stored digitally and physicians will be required to report cases to the government.
Dr. Lynham also expressed his commitment in lobbying to the Federal Government to establish a national screening program including retired coal miners.
The plan also includes a safety net for miners diagnosed with black lung, which means miners with the disease can rely on the workers’ compensation safety net, which is available via WorkCover Queensland or their employer’s own insurance scheme.
“As I have said previously, increased focus on this issue was always expected to result in further workers being diagnosed,” said Dr. Lynham.
“The review checked 257 long-term coal workers’ x-rays and of those, 18 miners have been recommended to undergo extra tests.
“My Department of Natural Resources and Mines is making contact with these miners’ medical advisers so the doctors can advise the miners to have a further test.
“I urge any coal mine worker who has concerns about their health to talk to their general practitioner.”