Reforms have been made to Queensland’s Coal Mine Worker’s Health Scheme in an effort to further protect miners from coal worker’s pneumoconiosis (CWP), or black lung.
Queensland natural resources and mines minister Anthony Lynham told state parliament that since July last year coal mine worker chest x-rays had been assessed by a Queensland radiologist to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) standard and re-checked by a United States-based B-reader – a physician able to identify instances of pneumoconiosis.
Since March 17 nearly 5000 x-rays have been sent US.
Lynham added that from July, the state begin phasing in a Queensland based system to read those chest x-rays twice.
“A tender is being called next month to source a Queensland-based provider for radiologists to dual read x-rays to the ILO standard,” he said.
The new reforms had been recommended by an independent expert review and come after a number of practices to protect coal mine workers against black lung became laws from January 1 2017.
These included all underground coal mine workers undergoing a respiratory function tests and chest x-rays when the enter the industry and every five years after; and retired coal mine workers granted access to respiratory function tests and chest x-rays. Mining companies must also give dust monitoring data to the Mine Inspectorate every three months and must report all cases of black lung.
Lynham said Queensland will also enforce strict guidelines for those conducting spirometry tests – lung capacity tests – by July this year.
He added that a process for clinically diagnosing CWP will be decided upon in April, developed in collaboration with medical experts and US black lung expert Dr Bob Cohen.
A health assessment form will also be implemented by the middle of the year to accurately gather health information.
Lynham also said the the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) will implement an electronic health record system by the end of the year.
“This will enable coal mine workers, current or retired, to access their own health records, irrespective of where they live and work,” he said.
“It also means that doctors will have better information and contractors, working for multiple employers, no longer require multiple medicals or x-rays.”
The Queensland Government has also announced further support for workers affected by black lung.
Industrial relations minister Grace Grace said workers are already able to receive compensation through WorkCover as well as common law damages, regardless of age or employment status.
“But we’re committed to strengthening even further the existing protections for workers diagnosed with CWP, through Queensland’s workers’ compensation system,” she said.
The state government has implemented all recommendations made by a stakeholder reference group that worked on finding gaps in worker’s compensation for miners with black lung.
These included having all costs for medical examinations for former coal mine workers concerned that they have black lung paid by WorkCover; allowing workers with simple CWP, whose disease progresses, to reopen their claim in order to access more benefits of the worker’s compensation scheme; additional rehabilitation support to assist workers back into alterntive employment; and streamlining worker’s compensation arrangements to align them with the Coal Mine Worker’s Health Scheme.
There are currently 20 diagnosed cases of black lung in Australia since the resurgence of the disease; 19 from Queensland and one from New South Wales.