With up to nine suspected cases of Black Lung feared in Queensland, the CFMEU have kicked off a campaign to see an end to the deadly disease.
CFMEU Queensland Mining and Energy division President Steve Smyth said with more than one case per week being diagnosed in the last two months, the union’s worst fears were starting to be realised and they expect many more diagnosed cases in coming months.
“We can’t put a figure on it because the regulatory system that is meant to detect problems has been asleep for decades, but it could be a big number,” Mr Smyth said.
“They haven’t had specialists, who are known as ‘B-readers’, checking miners X-rays and according to data reported by mining companies themselves, dust levels have been 5-10 times the legal limit. That has to change.”
Black Lung, or coal miners’ pneumoconiosis, is caused by long-term exposure to coal dust and was thought to have been eradicated in Australia in the early 1980s.
After a report on 7.30 in November, it was revealed that four former and current coalminers have the life-threatening disease.
The CFMEU launched the Dust to Dust campaign to improve health checks and dust inspections, ensure qualified practitioners review xrays, and extend healthcare and screening to retirement. They are also seeking a public inquiry into the re-emergence of the disease.
Percy Verrall was the first miner to be diagnosed with Black Lung disease in Australia in decades, uncovering a major health crisis and he has encouraged other miners to come forward and share their own stories and dust related heath issue via a new information hub at www.blacklung.com.au.
“Percy is an incredibly brave man and has opened up in a short film to be released soon, but thousands of other mine workers continue to work in conditions with dust levels well above the legal limit and tens of thousands of X-rays remain unchecked,” Mr Smyth said.
“Workers are concerned, families are worried, and the community wants to lend a hand, but there has been no easy way to get information or get involved.
“If people are concerned about their health or just want more information, we recommend they visit the site to sign up to the campaign and register their health issue and story.
“It’s appalling that companies and regulatory bodies have let health standards deteriorate, putting the lives of workers at serious risk.
“The Queensland Government’s Sims Review is a welcome start, but we must give people a chance to have their say and make public submissions through an open and transparent process. I hope the Government opens its review up and we stand ready to work with them if and when they do.”
Chief Executive of Queensland Resources Council Michael Roche has responded to threats by the union to shut down coal mines if dust levels are not reduced to below the state’s safety standard.
“Queensland coal mine operators take very seriously their obligations to provide a safe work environment for coal mine workers,” Mr Roche said.
“Queensland has a rigorous and transparent system of compliance on coal dust monitoring to Australian Standard 2985 with any exposure being further managed through a hierarchy of controls. This forms but one element of the detailed safety and health management system required at every mine site.
“The Queensland Resources Council is aware of the CFMEU’s coordinated tactic for the issuance of directives to all underground coal mine operators in Queensland. It is unclear what the union hopes to achieve from this ill-conceived threat issued three days before Christmas to shut down all underground coal mines in the state.
“The actions of CFMEU ISHRs in issuing a S167 directive on 22 December, is unlikely to have any impact on the operations of mines which comply with the existing legislative framework.”
Mr Roche said mine safety and health management systems ensure that the risks are managed and kept as low as reasonably practicable.