Watch Dr Bob Cohen from the University of Illinois explain mine dust diseases in clear, simple terms.
WHAT IS MINE DUST LUNG DISEASE?
- Black lung (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis): dust causes scarring of the lung and inflammation that is visible as masses on an x-ray.
- Silicosis: is a type of pneumoconiosis caused by the inhalation of silica rich dust
- Emphysema: Dust damages the lung air sacs, making it difficult to breathe
- Chronic obstructive airways disease: comprises chronic bronchitis and emphysema
WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING FOR?
- Lower dust levels: reducing respirable coal dust immediately to 2mg/m3 then down to 1mg/m3 and silica dust reduced to 0.05mg/m3.
- Independent medical assessment: mineworkers need independent doctors for respiratory checks. Company-aligned doctors have shown they don’t put workers’ interests first.
- Independent dust monitoring: we can’t rely on the coal mining companies to ‘self-monitor’.
- Simtars (Queensland’s Safety in Mines Testing and Research Station) should be resourced to provide independent dust monitoring.
- Mobile health units: coal mineworkers in Queensland need mobile health units to ensure world class screening processes for X-ray, spirometry and other assessments.
- Legal protection for affected workers: we need legislation to protect the work rights of coal mineworkers in all forms of employment, who are diagnosed with mine dust lung disease.
- Victims assistance fund: a levy on industry to cover mine dust lung disease victims’ medical costs and compensation.
- Recognise deaths as work-related: Deaths from Black Lung or other mine dust lung disease to be recorded as a work fatality.
WHY IS BLACK LUNG BACK?
Black Lung was never eradicated. It was here all along. But why did it appear to be eradicated?
In the 1960s, a system was set up to monitor health issues affecting coalmine workers, but that system has broken down as governments and businesses fail to limit dust levels or carry out health checks for workers. As a result, dust levels in some coal mines are way above the legal limit:
- No independent dust monitoring
- Complacency from health and regulatory authorities, which left a backlog of over 100,000 workers’ medicals left unchecked
- Lack of medical expertise
- No health checks for retired workers, or those who have left the industry
- Workers have also seen cuts to the coal miner health scheme, increases in longwall mining, and increases in non-union operators, which have all contributed to the re-emergence