Addressing mine dust lung disease

Mine workers are at risk of developing a range of occupational mine dust lung diseases. Disease is caused by long-term exposure to high concentrations of respirable dust, generated during mining and quarrying activities. They include a range of occupational lung conditions including:

  • coal workers’ pneumoconiosis
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • silicosis
  • asbestosis.

These diseases are usually found in workers who have had many years of exposure to high concentrations of respirable mineral dust. The diseases may take several years to develop.

Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis is the most commonly known form of mine dust lung disease. It is commonly referred to as ‘black lung disease’. Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis was thought to have been eradicated in Queensland.

The first case of the disease reported to the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy was in May 2015, despite a diagnosed case in 2006 (there was no reporting requirements in 2006 for diagnosed cases). Between May 2015 and 31 December 2018, 33 confirmed cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis were reported to the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy.

Following the acknowledgement of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis in 2015, the Queensland Government commissioned an independent review by the Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago (the Monash Review). In July 2016, the Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health completed its review and made 18 recommendations, all of which were supported by the government.

Following the Monash Review, on 15 September 2016, Queensland Parliament established the Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis Select Committee to inquire into the re-identification of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. 

The initial terms of reference focused on the re-identification of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis amongst mine workers in Queensland. This was extended on 23 March 2017 to include the end-to-end production of coal.

The committee tabled five reports in total, Reports 2 and 4 are relevant to this audit. Report 1 was an interim report with no recommendations made. Report No.3 made one recommendation regarding the exposure draft of the Mine Safety and Health Authority Bill 2017 while Report No.5 did not have any further recommendations.

Anticipated tabling: Oct–Dec 2019

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