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BREAKING: Seventh coal miner diagnosed with black lung

Another Queensland coal worker has been diagnosed with coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, bringing the number of confirmed cases to seven.

Natural Resources and Mines Minister Anthony Lynham told Parliament last night that the 55-year-old underground miner from central Queensland had been diagnosed with the disease, which is caused by exposure to fine dust particles.

The miner, who has worked underground for 28 years, was diagnosed after his employer offered X-rays to all employees when black lung cases began emerging last year.

“This underlines the importance of the five-point action plan I announced in January to help identify and prevent coal workers’ pneumoconiosis,” Dr Lynham said.

“I commit here again in this House to take whatever action is required to protect the health and safety of our coal miners. And I’d urge any coal miner with health concerns to see their GP.”

While the Government has only announced seven cases of black lung, a Senate investigation into the re-emergence of the deadly disease confirmed there was actually eight cases, matching CFMEU claims of more cases.

The inquiry Committee released their fifth interim report, simply titled Black Lung: “It has buggered my life” – a quote from one of the victims of the potentially fatal disease, Percy Verrall.

“The re-emergence of CWP in Australia in coal miners such as Mr Verrall and Mr Stoddart is deeply concerning. The Committee has been horrified that a disease thought to be eradicated in Australia for over 30 years has re-emerged,” the Committee said in the report.

“While the Committee acknowledges that mining production in Australia creates considerable export earnings, it is coal workers who currently bear the brunt of the risk from the hazardous bi-product of its production.

“Those who are literally at the coal face will be handed a death sentence in the form of incurable CWP if the Committee’s recommendations are not fully and immediately acted upon.

“Now is the time for action to protect these hard-working Australians.”

The inquiry has revealed systematic failures in the monitoring and regulation of damaging coal dust.

“The committee is concerned that data on the incidence of mine workers’ exposure to damaging levels of coal dust is unavailable because mines have failed to sufficiently monitor and report dust levels,” the report said.

“The committee is equally concerned by mining companies’ ineffective dust control measures, and is greatly concerned by the ineffective regulation which has allowed these problems to continue without impediment.”

In their recommendations, the Committee said it was “clear that there is inconsistent and sometimes non-existent dust monitoring in Queensland coal mines”.

Recommendations include:

  • Establishment of a National Coal Dust Monitoring Group
  • Review of current coal dust exposure levels and adoption of a national standard
  • Urgent employment of more effective dust mitigation measures
  • Coal mining companies must adopt the lowest Australian level (2.5 mg/m3 ) for coal dust exposure until a national standard has been agreed upon and implemented with a more rigorous, independent testing regime instigated as soon as practical in Queensland
  • Coal workers should be withdrawn from areas subject to unsafe dust levels without penalty
  • State governments to require monitoring to be undertaken in a consistent and methodical way
  • Development of a national database of best practice dust monitoring and management techniques
  • Establishment of an industry wide fund to provide compensation for workers who contract black lung
  • Former and current miners provided with means to seek independent assistance
  • Queensland Government to give highest priority to its review of coal dust regulations
  • Queensland Government to develop high level training on avoiding regulatory capture

Read the full interim report here.

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AMSJ April 2022