No one safe
AS FORECAST Black Lung now a problem for everyone in coal mining
Wednesday 12 October 2016
For the first time in history, an open-cut mine worker, who has never worked underground has been confirmed to have Coal Worker's Pneumoconiosis (CWP) or Black Lung.
Fifty-five-year-old miner Paul Head has worked at BMA's Goonyella Riverside open cut mine for most of his career, and this week the State Government announced he was the 16th miner to have Black Lung.
Mr Head’s case was confirmed by both Australian and US-based Black Lung experts under the new system of double checking all chest X-rays of at-risk miners.
Both specialists commented in their reports that Mr Head had small opacities in both lungs, consistent with the early stages of Black Lung.
Mr Head has urged other workers to get tested for the condition.
"I talked about my old mates there, you know, I hope they all go and get checked now too, because most of them were smokers too, and they'd probably just been putting it down to smoking, when really it's not." Mr Head said to local media.
"Beating around the bush saying we haven't got a dust problem, we haven't got a dust problem — you ask any of the workers, and they'll tell you, you've got a dust problem.
"It shocked me, and I've been in shock ever since.
"Even walking from the car into the mine, all you got to do is look at the cars in the car park, and it tells you how much dust is around.
"Everything you touch, you get black stuff on you.”
While a terrifying development for the industry, it’s not completely out of the blue.
If you read past the executive summary of the 116-page report into the management of Black Lung released in July, among the 17 headline recommendations, there were two terrifying issues identified that sent a shiver down the spine of everyone who noticed them.
The first is that the disease could be affecting hundreds of Queensland miners who are now too scared to go and get tested, and secondly, every single person who has been anywhere near coal is vulnerable.
The report rubbished the notion that Black Lung is a disease only affecting underground miners and said this assumption had been a critical failure.
“At risk from dust exposure is meant to be applied to workers in underground coal mines, open-cut coal mines and CHPP’s, but this criterion is most clearly recognised and applied to workers in underground mines," the report said.
“This approach does not adequately account for mobile workers, for example, contractors employed in a range of jobs across various mines, who can transition between different SEGs and lower and higher dust exposure jobs.”
As to the extent of the disease, it is anyone’s guess how widespread it is, with the report indicating the systems in place to monitor the disease have failed at every point due to inadequate training, laziness and an apathy born of the belief that Black Lung disappeared 30 years ago. It is almost certain that at least 18 more cases that have been identified by testers in the US will be confirmed, bringing the total confirmed cases in Australia to nearly 30.