Making mining safer

There's no doubt safety is the number one priority for the mining industry. 
But all too often this concern focuses on the physical protection of employees. 
Outside that the industry's efforts to educate and protect workers get fuzzier. 
While significant time and money is spent on health awareness and education, the movement to raise awareness about the risks of prostate cancer in the mining industry is rising. 
Medical research fund Mater Foundation, and an alliance between Coal Services and the Hunter Prostate Cancer Alliance are at the organisations driving the move, and are in the process of touring coal mines to make sure workers are aware of the danger. 
 

Mining focus 

There's nothing that subjects workers in the mining industry to a greater risk of prostate cancer compared with other industries. 
But because the sector is male-dominated and getting older, incidence of the disease in mining and mining regions is higher than average. 
Mater officials told Australian Mining from their experience touring sites workers weren't well educated about what prostate cancer was and how to prevent it. 
"A lot of people don't know what the prostate is, which we've come to learn from visiting mine sites and talking to workers," they said. 
Coal Services health general manager Mark O'Neil told Australian Mining they'd also encountered a lack of awareness on sites they'd visited but the knowledge gap was evident across all industries. 
"It's not just men in the mining industry but men in general," he said. 
"It's a fact that prostate cancer kills more men each year than breast cancer kills women and yet men don't know that, they're not aware of it." 
 

Close the gap 

O'Neil told Australian Mining health practitioners had to take some of the responsibility for the lack of awareness. 
And he said everyone involved in taking care of and managing the health of workers needed to do more. 
"I don't think health providers have done enough to talk about the dangers of prostate cancer and the risks that are associated with it," he said. 
"If you compare the amount of information and awareness that's out there about breast cancer compared to prostate cancer it's obvious that we haven't done a good enough job selling the message and that's partly what our work is designed to address." 
"Health care providers, doctors, governments, industry organisations and everybody that's involved in health care and health management has a role to play in talking about prostate cancer." 
 

Big challenge 

For organisations trying to raise prostate cancer awareness the biggest issues are the most obvious. 
"Men don't generally like talking about their health," O'Neil says. 
"Prostate cancer is also a disease that many men think is an old man's disease. 
"Part of the message we're trying to get across is that its not an old man's disease, prostate cancer can hit young men too and if you've got a family history, you're far more likely to be diagnosed at a young age." 
Mater officials also told Australian Mining that prostate cancer was much harder to market and advertise compared to diseases like breast cancer. 
Highlighting more challenges in fighting the disease, Mater said most men only went to the doctor once every three years and they usually didn't go back to the same GP. 
 

Fight the fight 

Mater told Australian Mining the best way to protect against prostate cancer was through early detection. 
Officials said workers needed to recognise their level of risk and tailor an approach to monitoring the disease. 
Men with blood relatives diagnosed with prostate cancer are much more likely to be diagnosed themselves, and Mater said people who had three blood relatives who had been diagnosed were "almost certain" to contract prostate cancer themselves. 
"We urge young men especially to go and find out what their family history is," they said. 
O'Neil said in NSW alone more than 4,000 men in the mining industry were at risk and the best strategy for helping monitor the disease could only be made through consultation with a doctor. 
"Our message is that this is a decision that needs to be made by a man in consultation with his GP," he said. 
"What we're suggesting is that men go to their doctor, have a full medical examination, a full medical history taken, and in consultation with their doctor they decide what's the best course of action for them."