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Coal mine employee wins payout after contracting deadly disease

Engie Hazelwood Coal Power Station
Engie Hazelwood Coal Power Station

A former coal mine worker will be compensated for a life-threatening sickness he developed from fighting workplace fires, a court found on August 1.

Morwell Magistrates Court ruled David Briggs should receive worker’s compensation after being exposed to harmful smoke, dust, fumes and substances during a 2014 fire at Engie’s Hazelwood Brown Coal Mine, 150 km east of Melbourne.

Diagnosed with lung disease

The former RTL Mining and Earthworks excavator operator was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and interstitial lung disease while managing the controlled fire that burnt for more than 12 weeks.

Lawyers from Maurice Blackburn claimed their client was exposed to harmful coal and pollutants while excavating burning coal, and was provided with no respiratory protection to prevent him from inhaling coal dust and other particles.

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Took months to develop symptoms

Briggs began to feel unwell less than six months after finishing work at the mine and needed an oxygen tank to breathe. He could not qualify for a lung transplant due to his rapidly deteriorating health condition.

However, RTL’s insurer Allianz rejected the employee’s application for weekly payments and medical treatment to be covered through WorkCover accident insurance.

Insurer ordered to pay up

Magistrate Simon Garnett ordered Allianz to approve Briggs’ application after a trial was held earlier this year.

“We were just thrown in there to put out the fire whatever the consequences, so it’s a relief knowing that the court agreed,” Briggs said in a statement obtained by the Australian Associated Press.

If RTL wishes to appeal against the ruling it has until the end of August to lodge an appeal.

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