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Stronger health protections for coal workers

*source Qld Government Mining Journal

Improvements continue to be made to the Queensland Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme in response to the recommendations made in the independent Monash University review.

The Department of Natural Resources and Mines acted quickly last year to introduce a dual screening program for chest x-rays. Since then, more than 5000 chest x-rays have been read by Australian radiologists and sent to the     US-based National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for a second read. This solution was implemented while the department introduces a Queensland-based dual chest x-ray program that meets International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards.

The department has also worked quickly to improve the quality of lung function testing, or spirometry. All spirometry undertaken must now comply with Queensland Health’s Spirometry (Adult) Guidelines and be conducted by an appropriately trained operator. All lung function tests are now required to have a comparative analysis which enables a worker’s lung capacity to be compared over time.

New regulations, which commenced 1 January 2017, require all Queensland coal mines to report respirable dust monitoring records, with quarterly data to be published online.

Under the new regulations:

  • all new coal mine workers must now undergo a health assessment, including respiratory function and chest x-ray examinations, on entry into the industry
  • above-ground coal mine workers must now 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 are now required to provide dust monitoring data to the Mines Inspectorate every three months
  • CWP is now 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 request a retirement examination, which includes a respiratory function and chest x-ray examination
  • chest x-ray examinations must be performed in accordance with International Labour Organisation guidelines.

The Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) select committee, established in September last year to inquire and report on the re-emergence of CWP amongst coal mine workers in Queensland, is expected to report back to Parliament by 29 May 2017.

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