Health screening system for coal workers a failure: report

The final report into the re-emergence of coal worker pneumoconiosis (CWP), or black lung, has confirmed the failure of the health screening system designed to protect coal miners.

QLD mines minister Anthony Lynham released the government’s response and plan following the review of the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme, led by Professor Malcolm Sim from Monash University.

Queensland Resources Council (QRC) chief executive Michael Roche said, “Industry is appalled at the apparent failure across the spectrum of screening, from lung function tests, chest x-rays through to questions over the qualifications and expertise of those carrying out the testing and screening.”

There are currently 11 confirmed cases of workers diagnosed with black lung – the youngest case only 39 years old – and the Monash University Review report has suggested the possibility of more cases arising.

Roche added that it was the reason the report’s recommendations must be acted upon quickly.

“Sadly, those companies thought they were doing the right thing for their workers’ health by having them regularly screened – tragically it was that very process that has been found to have repeatedly failed,” Roche said.

“Prevention, through stricter mechanisms to protect workers from dust, and early detection via an overhaul of existing health screening practices and expertise, are the beginning.”

Roche also welcomed Lynham’s initiation of the extensive review into black lung that involved experts and key stakeholders. He said the review was a “wake-up call” that would lead to changes in dust control, health screening, and dust monitoring.

Lynham launched a movement to protect the health of coal mine workers earlier this year, with the Coal Mining Safety and Health Advisory Committee – made up of union, employer, and departmental representatives – working on regulatory changes to the dust monitoring system. It will also provide training and experience standard for nominated medical advisers.

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