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Issue #1724      March 23, 2016

Editorial

Make black lung history

At the end of last year three cases of the incurable work-related disease black lung, wiped out in Australia decades ago, were reported in Queensland, prompting calls for mandatory, regular chest x-rays for mine workers.

The miners’ union, the CFMEU, warned that many more current and ex-mine workers could be living and working with the disease undiagnosed and that it is impossible to determine the size of the problem, or how long it has been an issue, because Australia no longer has medical experts in this area. The three workers recently diagnosed with black lung had to consult US specialists.

CFMEU Mining and Energy division general president Tony Maher said that with the combination of a national public inquiry and the Queensland government’s reviews on the issue he was confident all governments would work together to come up with a solution to what is a growing health crisis.

“This national inquiry allows victims and experts to have their say in an open public forum, make submissions and get all the issues out in the open,” Mr Maher said.

“Australia’s coal miners deserve the safest possible conditions at work and if mining companies are not properly managing dust levels that must be addressed by government as an urgent priority.

“We need to make sure workers, including those who have retired or been retrenched, are given the health and support they need to live the most comfortable life possible under the circumstance.”

The campaign Dust to Dust; Make Black Lung History is seeking six clear commitments from government.

  • New legislation requiring dust levels to be monitored and publicly reported by an independent statutory body – identifying individual mines by name and company.
  • Ensure suitably qualified “B Readers” review all x-rays taken of coalmine workers and fund a training programme in industry best practises for coal dust controls.
  • Immediately clear the backlog of 100,000 outstanding worker medicals in Queensland.
  • Healthcare and screening to be extended into workers’ retirement.
  • Identify other at-risk workers by randomly sampling those with 15+ years service in the mining industry and performing checks.
  • A community information program to encourage people in mining communities to be checked.

A total of nine cases of Black lung disease are either confirmed or feared in Queensland, with one new case confirmed and another four cases awaiting official diagnosis. It follows four cases reported last November, bringing the total to nine, which could be just the tip of the iceberg.

CFMEU Queensland Mining and Energy division President Steve Smyth said with more than one case per week being diagnosed in the last months, the union’s worst fears were starting to be realised and they expect many more diagnosed cases in coming months.

“We can’t put a figure on it because the regulatory system that is meant to detect problems has been asleep for decades, but it could be a big number,” Mr Smyth said.

The Make Black Lung History campaign took a step forward with a Senate Inquiry into Black Lung disease announced by the Senate Standing Committee on Health. The inquiry will allow victims and experts to have their say in an open public forum, make submissions and get all the issues out in the open.

A campaign has been launched aimed at improving health checks, dust inspections and other government regulation. Dust to Dust; Make Black Lung History will seek a public inquiry into the re-emergence of the disease.

Next article – CPA Statement – Electoral reform

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