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Black lung – New Qld law to protect workers

Black Lung
Laws have changed to protect against black lung

Authorities have yielded to widespread concerns about the horrifying effects of black lung, and passed new rules to protect Queensland coal miners from the deadly disease.

Queensland Parliament will make a suite of health and safety reforms become law from 1 January 2017. Changes have been made to coal health and safety laws that will make dust level information publicly available. Health checks will be compulsory for underground and above-ground miners as well as reporting of black lung cases to the State 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,” Queensland Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham says.

“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. 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.”

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

Following introduction of the dual reading screening system in July 2016, more than 2000 coal mine worker chest x-rays have been read first by an Australian radiologist and sent to be read by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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

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.

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AMSJ April 2022