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Western Australia

Mobile screening unit latest win in dust disease fight

June 6, 2019

A mobile screening van to test Queensland coal mineworkers for dust diseases including black lung is the latest win in the Union’s campaign to stem growth in the deadly condition.

The Queensland Government last week announced $1.2 million for a mobile service for regional Queensland in communities including Moranbah, Emerald, Rockhampton and Mackay. It will provide x-ray and spirometry services to current coal mineworkers as well as those who have left the industry or retired.

Queensland District Vice President Steve Pierce attended the announcement with Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham, saying the independently operated service would be welcomed by mineworkers who had lost trust in company doctors to diagnose and manage the condition.

WIN Rockhampton reports

The CFMEU has been leading the campaign to improve detection and management of dust diseases for mineworkers, with the mobile screening unit being the latest success.

Outcomes include:

Lower dust levels: Legal exposure limits for respirable dust were lowered from 3.0 to 2.5mg/m3 from November 2018 and there are commitments to further reductions this year.

B-reader training: Training programs have been developed for radiologists to achieve the ‘B-reader’ qualification specifically for identifying pneumoconiosis.

Improved screening: All chest Queensland coal mineworker chest X-rays are now dual read to ILO standards and are assessed by a qualified B-reader. X-rays were being sent to the US for assessment, now they are being assessed by Lungscreen Australia.

Scrutiny of company doctors: New legislation gives the Mines Department the power to investigate compliance by company doctors with health standards.

Independent dust monitoring: The Mines Department has appointed the first of several dust technicians to monitor coal and silica dust levels in Queensland underground and open cut mines, with the ability to perform unannounced inspections.

Dust disease register: The Queensland government has established a Notifiable Dust Disease Register to officially record cases of occupational dust disease, recognising the seriousness of the issue.

District President Stephen Smyth thanked the current Queensland Government for taking dust diseases seriously after government and industry neglect saw Black Lung return to the state’s industry decades after it was believed to have been eradicated.

“These measures will save lives. There’s certainly more to do and the Union will keep our foot on the pedal so progress doesn’t stall,” he said.

“Priorities are to keep lowering allowable dust levels and ensure greater access to independent, quality medical advice for coal miners.

“We need better legal protections for affected workers. At the moment, workers are worried that a diagnosis means they’ll be thrown on the scrapheap – because they frequently are.

“And we also need the industry to step up and contribute to a fund for victims. All the action we’ve seen over the past three years has been funded by taxpayers through government. It is the mining companies who have caused this tragic situation, it’s time for them to contribute.”

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