Public health

National plan needed on coal workers pneumoconiosis: TSANZ

Thursday, 31 Mar 2016

Urgent nation-wide action is needed to bring Australian standards for monitoring and reporting occupational coal dust exposure levels into line with other developed countries the TSANZ has said in a statement.

The call comes in response to news last month of the re-emergence of pneumoconiosis in coal workers in Queensland. A senate inquiry is currently investigating six cases that are thought by some to be just the tip of the iceberg. An interim report  is expected to be handed down later today.

President of the TSANZ Peter Gibson said it was ‘unacceptable’ that a preventable disease such as pneumoconiosis should be occurring in Australia in 2016.

The best way to prevent the disease is to ensure coalmine dust was minimized to a level that presented the least risk to coal workers, the statement noted.

However Australian standards were inconsistent across states and offered less protection to workers compared to countries like the US and UK.

Australia also did not have a system of mandatory reporting cases of occupational disease.

“We urgently need to review the levels of dust to which coal miners are exposed and develop a national, standardised, diagnosis and reporting scheme for CWP that is independent of industry so that the true burden of disease in coal workers can be accurately identified and monitored in all states and territories,” Professor Gibson said.

In particular the TSANZ call for:

  1. Nationally standardised coal dust exposure limits and monitoring protocols in line with current international best practice.
  1. A comprehensive screening program for workers at risk of exposure to coal and/or silica dust preferably evaluated by physicians and radiologists not employed by the coal companies.
  1. The referral of all workers with significant respiratory symptoms, whether in an existing surveillance program or after retirement, to a specialist respiratory physician, preferably with expertise in occupational lung disease.
  1. CWP and other occupational lung diseases should be made notifiable diseases, so that all diagnosed cases are recorded.
  1. The central storage, review and reporting of all results from CWP surveillance.

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