ON the eve of the sixth case of black lung disease diagnosed in Queensland, the state government released a five-point plan to manage the identification, management and prevention of the health issue.

Known medically as pneumoconiosis, black lung disease is caused by long-term inhalation of coal dust in underground coal mining operations.

Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham, who is also Acting Health Minister, released the plan on Friday.

“There’s still research to be done on the medical and workplace records, but I suspect there are more cases to come,” Dr Lynham said.

“I am determined to get on top of this issue to protect workers now and into the future and to be open and transparent as we progress.”

The five-point plan includes:

  1. A review to improve the existing screening system, where coal mine workers have chest X-rays when they start work, at least every five years, and when they retire.

Dr Lynham is expecting an interim report from the ongoing Monash University-led review of the Coal Miners’ Health Scheme by the end of the first quarter of 2016, with detailed recommendations by mid-year.

  1. Taking action on coal mines exceeding regulated limits on dust levels.

Coal inspectors are working with Queensland’s 12 operating underground coal mines, including those with coal dust issues related to longwall mining techniques.

Of Queensland’s 12 operating underground coal mines, only one is exceeding dust limits now. Over the past 12 months, eight miners were directed to either improve monitoring or bring respirable dust levels back into compliance.

  1. Improving how information is collected and used to ensure cases aren’t missed.
  2. Investigating regulatory changes as part of the mine safety legislation review already underway to ensure underground coal dust is kept at safe levels.
  1. Placing the issue on the agenda for the national council of mining ministers.

“Coal mine operators have offered their workers new chest X-rays and specialist analysis since this issue emerged,” Dr Lynham says.

“All the stakeholders on this issue – miners and their families, the unions, employers, and the medical profession – are working together in the best interests of workers past and present.”

AMMA’s members in the Queensland coal industry should be particularly aware of these developments. For any workplace or OHS advice, contact your local AMMA office.