The CFMEU has confirmed the re-emergence of the deadly Black Lung disease at coal mines in Queensland, sparking fear and heated arguments about the working conditions across the state’s coal mines.
The disease, which was thought to have been eradicated decades ago, is caused by a build-up of coal dust in the lungs due to inadequate ventilation and health standards in coalmines.
In the last three months, three cases of Black Lung – or Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis – have been detected at coal mines in Queensland, prompting the miners’ union to question whether the regulatory system set up to monitor and detect health issues affecting miners was properly maintained and fully functional.
“It’s appalling that companies and regulatory bodies have let health standards deteriorate, putting the lives of workers at serious risk,” CFMEU Queensland District President Stephen Smyth said in a media statement.
“This is a disease that takes hold gradually and we’re extremely concerned that recent diagnoses are just the tip of the iceberg. Of great concern is that Australian health and regulatory frameworks are no longer equipped to deal with the disease.”
The regulatory system that monitors and detects health issues with coalminers also includes providing regular x-rays. However, a recent report from the Queensland Government’s Health Improvement and Awareness Committee showed that local authorities “do not have the required qualifications” to read and interpret x-rays of coal mine workers, leading to a “backlog of 100,000 x-rays to be reviewed”.
Mr Smyth said local expertise “simply didn’t exist anymore” and specialists from the United States had to be used by the men recently diagnosed with the disease.
“There is no way to judge the size of the problem affecting coalmine workers in Queensland, or for how long it has been an issue because the regulatory system has broken down and the medical specialists don’t exist in Australia to deal with it,” Mr Smyth said.
“There is a real possibility that many more current and ex-mine workers are living and working in Queensland with the disease undiagnosed. Failure to detect Black Lung early means that miners will continue to work in the coalfields at a devastating cost to their health.”
He said the Union welcomed the Queensland Government’s decision to conduct a review and was seeking urgent action from government and industry to address this issue.
“The union has made a number of recommendations that need to be enacted as a matter of urgency,” Mr Smyth added.