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Issue #1763      February 1, 2017

Black Lung

Justice, safety and new laws

On the 70th anniversary of the historic Miners Federation campaign to eradicate the deadly Black Lung disease from Australia’s coal industry, our CFMEU has welcomed the Queensland government’s introduction of new laws to tackle its re-emergence.

Just as the union led the campaign in 1947 against Black Lung, today it is leading the charge to not only finally eradicate the deadly disease but fighting for justice for the victims of Black Lung and other dust related diseases.

The union points out that it was the CFMEU in 2015 that exposed the re-emergence of Black Lung in Queensland’s coal mines and has since led the campaign against it and that the latest positive response of the Queensland Labor government was pleasing.

On January 1 reforms to work health and safety regulations became law providing better protection for mineworkers. They ensure:

  • Making it compulsory for companies to publish dust levels publicly.
  • Compulsory health checks for both underground and above-ground miners to ILO standards.
  • Compulsory reporting of Black Lung cases to the government.

In announcing the new laws Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said Black Lung “is a disease that does not belong in the 21st century and I am determined to continue to work with industry, unions, and doctors to protect our coal miners.”

Under the new regulations, all new coal mine workers will undergo a health assessment, including respiratory function and chest x-ray examinations, on entry into the industry, allowing doctors to detect changes that may occur over time. Above-ground coal miners will also be subjected to a chest x-ray and respiratory function test at least once every 10-years. If they have worked underground, it will be conducted every 5-years.

Companies will also be required to provide dust-monitoring data to the Mines Inspectorate every three months. An Advisory Committee of union, industry and government representatives will review the data and it will be published online.

With the new laws, Black Lung will become a notifiable disease, which means companies are required to report known cases to the Queensland Mines Inspectorate. Coal mine workers retiring permanently can now ask their employer for a retirement examination, including respiratory function and chest x-ray examination.

Chest x-ray examinations will be performed in accordance with International Labour Organisation guidelines, an initiative pushed strongly by the CFMEU.

Another development driven by the union is for a new system of reading x-rays to the world’s best practice levels after some shocking and disastrous failures in the previous system missed diagnosing many of the Black Lung victims.

More than 2,000 coal mine worker chest x-rays have been read first by an Australian radiologist, and then sent to be read by US-based National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approved readers. This system ensures every worker’s chest x-ray is examined independently by at least two medical experts.

More to be done

While these are welcome moves, the CFMEU says it will continue to campaign for much more to be done in 2017 including:

  • A 10c levy on all coal produced in Queensland to support current and future victims of Black Lung disease.
  • A significant reduction in legal dust levels in coal mines.
  • Stronger laws to fight the deadly disease.

The CFMEU also expects that recommendations to come from the Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry into Black Lung and other dust related diseases be immediately acted upon as well as the recommendations also made by the Senate Inquiry and the Sim Inquiry.

Next article – Manus/Nauru dead-end

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