OPINION: BLACK LUNG SUFFERER TELLS HIS STORY TO SAVE OTHERS
WHEN I first started working in the coal mines 30 years ago, I had no idea I would appear before a Queensland parliamentary inquiry to tell my story.
I spent most of my working life in Ipswich coalfields. Little did I know I was literally working myself to death.
In 2012, I was the first confirmed case of black lung in Australia in 30 years – a deadly disease caused by breathing in too much coal dust. It’s the really fine dust that gets you. You can’t even see it.
The diagnosis was a tough blow for me and my family. I feel very weak all the time, and the pressure in my chest feels like I’ve been hit by a truck. My lungs are actually bleeding, which means I sometimes cough up blood. This disease is slowly killing me. All I can do now is raise awareness for blokes in the mines today.
Since I was diagnosed, another 15 guys have too. But these reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg. With more than 29,000 coal miners in this state alone, there are possibly thousands of cases.
How has this totally preventable disease re-emerged in Australia when the Government, the mining industry and the medical industry all thought it was abolished 30 years ago? What have mining companies been doing to allow this deadly disease to return in what is supposed to be a world-class industry? And what are they going to do now for people like me and our families who are suffering?
To eradicate the disease, we need to get the dust levels down. The only cure we have is to stop the dust. We need stronger laws to reduce legal dust levels in the mines, and the Government also needs a better system for monitoring dust levels. If the companies don’t get the dust levels down, they should have the book thrown at them.
Even if we fix the system, for those like me, it’s too late. We just want a comfortable life before we go. Coal mining companies should pay a 10¢ per tonne levy on all coal produced to help look after victims of the disease. I know they can afford 10¢ – it’s a tiny fraction of the profits they make each year from coal production.
In January this year, I applied for compensation to BHP, my former employer, but they rejected my claim. I think they know they’ve got a problem and they’re trying to duck and cover.
They hide behind the Queensland Resources Council and refuse to say or do anything themselves. The only way we’ll get a black lung victims’ fund is if the Government makes it law.
I fronted up to the Queensland parliamentary inquiry because I don’t want other blokes to end up in my condition. I want my mates to know the risks, and I want the Government to do something about it.
I’m calling on all coal miners to be tested. There’s a Black Lung Victims’ Group now so people can connect with other victims and help make black lung history.
Percy Verrall is part of the CFMEU’s Dust to Dust: Make Black Lung History campaign