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A former open cut coal miner is NSW’s first case of ‘black lung’ disease in more than than 40 years

The NSW Department of Industry Resources Regulator confirmed it has been notified of a case of Mixed Dust Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis also known as ‘black lung’ disease.
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This is the first case of pneumoconiosis reported in a NSW coal mine worker since the 1970s. The person affected worked in a number of NSW open cut mines before leaving the industry in 2014.

“Even though this insidious disease has not been confirmed in NSW for decades, one case of pneumoconiosis is one case too many,” said Resources Regulator Chief Compliance Officer Lee Shearer.

“The priority is to ensure the worker is getting the best possible level of support and care, and as part of this process I ask that we respect the worker’s request to maintain their absolute privacy.

“Further, the Major Investigation Unit of the Resources Regulator is investigating how this case has happened and if there have been any breaches of the work health and safety laws.

“If breaches of the work health and safety laws are identified, enforcement action will be taken. This investigation can also determine if there are learnings or changes to our practices that will reduce the chance of further cases developing.”

Queensland miners and union members protest for workers rights and the treatment of victims of Black Lung disease on April 20, 2016 in Brisbane.There have been more recent cases of black lung disease in that state. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Fairfax Media)

Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Coal Services Lucy Flemming said while there is no indication of any other coal worker pneumoconiosis cases in NSW, coal mine workers past and present can contact Coal Services Health on 02 6571 9900 if they have any questions or concerns or to arrange a medical. Ms Shearer said NSW has a stringent regime to protect workers in the coal mining industry.

“Our approach is a combination of the most rigorous coal dust exposure limits in , legislated requirements for achieving minimum standards of ventilation, monitoring of airborne contaminants in the worker environment and prescribed worker health monitoring regimes for exposure to airborne dust.

“Workers receive periodic health surveillance every three years. Outside of the placement, medical assessments are undertaken for all coal mine workers prior to commencing employment and ongoing assessments are offered to workers after they leave the industry.

“Workers’ health is the absolute priority and this latest news only serves to demonstrate the utmost importance of such strict regulations.”

NSW has a comprehensive regulatory scheme in place under the Department of Industry’s Resources Regulator, the industry body Coal Services and specific health and safety legislation for mining.

NSW has a long-standing tripartite approach to addressing health and safety issues, led by the NSW Mine Safety Advisory Council, a ministerially appointed council that comprises representation from government, mining industry employers, unions and independent experts. The council has also established an airborne contaminants sub-committee to look at issues involving dust.

Mixed Dust Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis may have a rapid onset and is caused by prolonged and close exposure to respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal mine dust.

“Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis is a preventable disease if appropriate dust control, atmospheric monitoring and worker monitoring measures are in place at mines,” Ms Shearer said.

“The NSW model of prevention, detection, enforcement and education is essential in protecting workers in the NSW coal industry from harm in the future. Controlling dust exposure, monitoring and ongoing health surveillance are vital components of the prevention and detection strategies that are in place and enforced in NSW.”

Ms Flemming stressed the importance of regular health surveillance for all current and former NSW coal mine workers.

“Prevention and education is the key – mine operators must have strong dust elimination and mitigation controls in place, workers should wear personal protective equipment and attend medicals even after they leave the industry.”

Ms Flemming reiterated the work Coal Services has been doing with all key stakeholders to strengthen the NSW model to ensure best practice and focus on prevention through education programs, rigorous health surveillance and research.

“Our primary focus for the immediate future is working together to provide the appropriate care, support and best possible medical attention to the affected worker,” she said.

The Singleton Argus

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