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Regulator steps in to ensure coal miners get health checks

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The re-emergence of black lung disease has led to new rules and regulations to better support more than 50,000 Queensland workers.

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Queensland has recorded 50 cases of black lung, or coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, since 1984. Most of those were diagnosed in the last four years, when almost 90,000 scans were done on former and current workers potentially at risk.

The old black lung returned as a new lung disease was striking down Queensland workers: silicosis, caused by exposure to silica dust, such as found in engineered stone bench tops. This sparked parallels with the fight against asbestos-related disease, and intensified workplace health and safety efforts across Australia.

With a National Dust Disease Taskforce now finalising the Commonwealth response to silicosis, the Queensland regulator established to deal with black lung has given some insight into what it takes.

Resources Safety and Health Queensland chief executive Mark Stone told the taskforce his agency had to audit medical assessment reports to ensure any abnormal screening results were investigated in accordance with guidelines.

“This has resulted in an improvement in doctor compliance … and a number of coal mine workers receiving appropriate follow-up tests that may not have otherwise,” Stone wrote.

A review of the use of high-resolution computed tomography scans also found “abnormalities consistent with mine dust lung disease that were not reported”.

Stone called for such scans for mine and quarry workers to be limited to specialist radiologists who have additional training and report cases of occupational lung disease in their routine practice. That will likely have implications for other dust diseases.

There are currently 819 RSHQ-approved providers, however, that number will likely reduce as transitional arrangements end next month.

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