Responsibility for the health and safety of coal workers should be separated from the government department that promotes and supports the industry, Queensland’s parliamentary inquiry into Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis has found.
The report Black Lung, White Lies recommends the establishment of a Mine Safety and Health Authority, which would administer a new Coal Workers’ Health Scheme and be advised by an expert Medical Advisory Panel.
The Medical Advisory panel would include at least two respiratory physicians and a specialist in occupational medicine.
21 coal miners have been diagnosed with the disease since May 2015 – with many more cases likely in the future. Prior to 2015, it was widely accepted that the disease had been eradicated.
“This pre-conditioned most in the industry to under-estimate the extent of the potential risk that respirable coal mine dust still posed,” the report said.
It called the re-identification of black lung disease in Queensland ‘a catastrophic failure of the regulatory and health surveillance systems intended to ensure the protection of coal industry workers’.
The report recommended that all workers undertake a health assessment prior to commencing work in the coal industry – which includes coal transportation and handling outside mines.
Underground coal miners should have a health assessment every three years and all other coal workers at least every six years.
The Mine Safety and Health Authority should also include a dedicated health research function.
The report’s 68 recommendations also covered issues such as dust monitoring and mitigation practices and amendments to the worker’s compensation scheme.
A report addressing the expanded terms of reference – to include occupational dust exposure in port, railway, power station, and other workers – will be delivered later this year.