Move to tackle re-emergence of ‘black lung’

Posted April 11, 2016

Black Lung Disease

Doctors closest to coal miners are to be brought up to speed on black lung disease.

The disease fits into the general description of  pneumoconiosis and had been thought to be an affliction of the past in Australia.

Queensland has six confirmed cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.

Its re-emergence last year forced the State Government to undertake an independent review into the state’s screening system.

Nominated medical advisers, doctors who undertook the regular official health assessments of miners, would be given standard introductory training, said mines minister Dr Anthony Lynham.

“I have instructed my Department of Natural Resources and Mines to take immediate action on this recommendation,” Dr Lynam said.

“Effective health assessments are critical to a screening system and early identification and prevention of coal miners’ pneumoconiosis.

“It’s critical that we have a core group of experienced nominated medical advisers who are skilled, experienced, can share information and be kept up-to-date on the specific occupational health requirements for Queensland’s coal mine workers.”

The government was looking at alternatives to having mining companies select doctors who sit  as nominated medical advisers, said Dr Lynham.

The recommendations about medicos are contained in an interim report from the independent review team led by Professor Malcolm Sim from Monash University.

The review is looking at ways to improve the existing coal workers’ health screening system.

Professor Sim presented his interim findings to a reference group of union, industry, medical and government representatives in Brisbane. The team is due to provide the final report mid-year.

Dr Lynham said the next step was for a working party of unions and mining company representatives to develop the minimum experience standards and training for nominated medical advisers.

The review is part of the government’s five-point action plan to tackle coal worker pneumoconiosis.

The action plan also includes:

  • taking action on coal mines exceeding regulated limits on dust levels.
  • improving how information is collected and used to ensure cases aren’t missed.
  • investigating regulatory changes in consultation with the Coal Mining Safety and Health Advisory Committee
  • placing the issue on the agenda for the national council of mining ministers. as part of the  mine safety legislation review already underway.

The American lung association defines pneumoconiosis as a general term given to any lung disease caused by dusts that are breathed in and then deposited deep in the lungs causing damage. Pneumoconiosis is usually considered an occupational lung disease, and includes asbestosissilicosis and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as “black lung disease.”


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