More coal miners to be diagnosed with Black Lung

With five cases of Black Lung diagnosed among Queensland miners, unions have declared they fear many more miners will be found with the disease.

The Morning Bulletin reported the CFMEU had a list of another 40 people who either could have Black Lung or had already died of it.

CFMEU industry health and safety representative Jason Hill said he believed coal mines had been exceeding the mandated dust levels for a long time, and that the “system” had let miners down.

Each of the five miners diagnosed to date had worked at least one mine out of the Oaky Creek, Grasstree or Carborough coal mines.

The most recent case was an unnamed Middlemount man who had been working underground since the 1970s, who was diagnosed with the symptoms of black lung by Dr Robert Cohen, an expert in the field of coal worker’s lung diseases.

Queensland will soon commence a review of the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme (CMWHS), which will include cross checking of previous individual x-rays.

The CMWHS involves taking x-rays of workers’ chests when they begin work in the industry, a minimum of once every five years, and when they exit the industry.

The review will be headed by Professor Malcolm Sim from the Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, and is expected to conclude at the end of March, with detailed recommendations by June.

State Mines minister Dr Anthony Lynham said inspectors were working closely with all of Queenland’s 12 coal mines to examine coal dust issues.

"Eight mines over the past 12 months have been directed to either improve monitoring or bring respirable dust levels back into compliance.

The minister said one of the mines was exceeding dust limits, but refused to reveal which mine because it would be “inappropriate” because the mine might already be in compliance with acceptable dust levels, and because workers were wearing respirators, Morning Bulletin wrote.

Minister Lynham said he had written to Federal Resources minister Josh Frydenberg to raise the issue on the agenda for the national council of mining ministers.

He also welcomed action by the ANZ College of Radiologists’ in compiling a register of radiologists who can report to an International Labor Organisation (ILO) classification of radiographs of pneumoconiosis.

“Coal mine operators have offered their workers new chest X-rays and specialist analysis since this issue emerged,” he said.

“I encourage any past coal miner with a concern to discuss it with their general practitioner.”

The CFMEU has also raised issue with the possibility that some Australian radiographers involved in reviewing coal miner x-rays have not been qualified or suitably experienced to recognise coal miner’s pneumoconiosis.

Queensland CFMEU mining and energy president Steven Smyth said the latest man diagnosed had submitted a worker’s compensation claim, and his scans had been sent to the United States for examination.

The ABC reported another five ‘potential cases’ were waiting for testing results.

"Whilst we have trained and qualified radiologists here, we don't have people that can read these X-rays to a B-Reader standard,” Smyth said.

"They say they will have, but they don't.

"That has been proven by the number of cases that have all been confirmed in the United States [after Australian X-rays were sent there] or have been confirmed by a lung biopsy, which is a very invasive procedure.

"It's a terrible state of affairs when here in Queensland in the 21st century we don't' have qualified people that can read these X-rays, for a disease that has been around since the 18th and 19th centuries."

Professor Malcom Sim rejected the views put forward by Smyth, saying there was a “well trained group of professionals in this country”, and that greater awareness was required in relation to dust exposure in coal mines.

Queensland Resources Council chief Michael Roche said the QRC supported a government review of the CMWHS, and looked forward to the recommendations.

“The top priority is the health and safety of mine workers and the resources sector is committed to their protection,” he said.

“Queensland coal mines have a rigorous and transparent system of compliance with standards for dust levels and industry will continue to work closely with the department to ensure compliance.”

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