A mining safety regulator has urged current, former and retired mine workers to conduct regular health surveillance screening following an investigation into a former coal mine worker being diagnosed with a dust disease.
The NSW Resources Regulator has issued a plea to all mine workers to maintain regular health surveillance screening amidst concerns that dust exposure could be attributed across multiple industry sites.
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Acting Deputy Secretary and Chief Compliance Officer for the NSW mining safety regulator, Anthony Keon, said the investigation showed ‘Worker Y’ was historically exposed to dusty underground environments at a number of coal mines over a long period of time.
mine workers should continue to attend for their health surveillance medicals even after they leave the industryCoal Services Chief Executive Lucy Flemming
“Worker Y’s medical condition can’t be attributed to specific exposure or specific sites, and no enforcement action can be taken in this case – but it underlines both the need for all current and former coal mine workers to get regular checks and the importance of the stringent regime we now have in place here in NSW,” he said.
Surveillance screening important for industry
“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 work environment; and prescribed worker health monitoring regimes for exposure to airborne dust.
“Coal mine workers receive periodic health surveillance every three years. Medical assessments are also undertaken for all coal mine workers prior to commencing employment and assessments are offered to workers when they leave the industry.”
Black Lung or Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis plagued the industry in recent times (particularly Queensland) however, Mr Keon said the NSW regime is underpinned by a strict compliance and enforcement approach.
“Over the past 12 months the Resources Regulator has undertaken 68 targeted assessments and planned inspections at NSW coal mines as part of a major compliance campaign to ensure mines have appropriate dust control measures in place to minimise exposure risks to workers.
Dust health surveillance regime working in NSW
“The regime is working – inspection and mandatory testing shows nearly all NSW coal mines have reduced exposure levels to well below the prescribed allowable limits. Cases such as Worker Y demonstrate the scheme’s effectiveness in identifying legacy issues and ensuring early intervention and appropriate care,” he said.
Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Coal Services Lucy Flemming said the case highlights how important it is for past and current coal mine workers to undertake regular health surveillance screening, provided to them as part of the NSW regulatory framework.
“Prevention and education is the key – mine operators must have strong dust elimination and mitigation controls in place, workers should wear personal protective equipment when required and continue to attend for their health surveillance medicals even after they leave the industry,” Ms Flemming said.
Ms Flemming reiterated the work Coal Services has been doing with all key stakeholders to strengthen the NSW model to ensure best practice and focus on prevention through education programs, rigorous health surveillance screening and research.
The agency has urged all current and former coal mine workers to contact Coal Services Health to arrange a medical if they have concerns about their respiratory health.