Oct 13, 2016

Alarm raised on open-cut black lung threat

Alarm raised on open-cut black lung threat CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth.

A case of black lung disease in an open-cut coal mine worker has been reported at BMA’s Goonyella Riverside Mine, according to the mining union.

Paul Head reported that in his 31 years working as an open-cut coal miner he had only received one chest x-ray when he first started working in the mines.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division Queensland District President Stephen Smyth said workers and communities in all states and territories with underground and open-cut coal mines were now clearly at risk.

“It’s a myth that miners working in open-cut mines are not exposed to high levels of coal dust or at risk of developing irreversible and fatal black lung  and other dust related diseases,” Mr Smyth said.

“So far, industry and governments have been assuming this problem is isolated to underground mines – we now know this is a false assumption.

“The union is again urging mining companies to immediately address dust levels in all coalmines and keep dust levels below legal limits.”

The emergence of a confirmed case of black lung in an Australian open-cut mine follows a 2012 study of surface coal miners in the US  that revealed 1-in-50 workers in surface coalmines had developed coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.

Mr Smyth said that due to the similarities between the United States and Australian mining, it was estimated this figure would be comparable in Australia, if not higher.

“The current legal dust exposure limits in Queensland are insufficient and are also not being appropriately monitored to prevent excess dust exposure,” Mr Smyth said.

Mr Smyth said this new case of black lung disease underlined the importance of an industry levy to support a victims’ fund given the national significance of the issue.

Tighter rules to protect Queensland miners from coal workers pneumoconiosis will officially kick in from January 1, according to  Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham.

“We are tightening the rules around dust management, reporting and medical assessments for coal mine workers,” he said.

“From 1 January 2017 a number of measures that are practically already in place will become regulations, which means they will be required by law.

These changes will require coal mining companies to:

– regularly report dust monitoring results to the Mines Inspectorate – for underground longwall and development operations, at least every three months.
– advise inspectors every time dust concentrations exceed prescribed levels.
– report known cases of certain occupational lung diseases, including coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, to the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM).
-provide respiratory function and chest x-ray examinations for retiring coal mine workers at their request.
Regulated changes to health assessments for miners include:

– new underground and above-ground coal mine workers to undergo a chest x-ray when they enter the coal mining industry
– above-ground coal mine workers to have respiratory function and chest x-ray examinations at least once every 10 years
– current employees who are or have worked in an underground coal mine to have respiratory function and chest x-ray examinations at least once every five years
– respiratory function examinations undertaken as part of health assessments to be compared to a worker’s previous results where available.
– chest x-ray examinations to be performed in accordance with International Labour Organisation guidelines.
Dr Lynham told Parliament that he had requested prompt advice from his Coal Mining Safety and Health Advisory Committee on any further action that may need to be taken following the recent confirmation of the first aboveground coal miner worker with black lung.