Still no canary in coal mine
CRITICAL Black Lung technology still not ready for Australian coal mines.
Wednesday 16 November 2016
The lack of investment into real-time coal dust monitors suited to Australian mining conditions continues to make a mockery of attempts to deal with Black Lung according to the CFMEU’s Greg Dalliston.
Mr Dalliston says while the effort going into improving testing for the disease is important, he says it doesn't solve the root problem, which is miners working in dusty environments.
Under the current regime in Queensland, mine operators must ensure workers do not breathe an atmosphere containing respirable dust exceeding concentrations of 3 milligrammes per cubic metre of air during an 8-hour shift.
Leaving the controversial threshold level aside, he says there's a lot of problems with the current sampling technology.
“The biggest problem is that it can take between 1 and two weeks for the results of a dust sample to come back,” he said.
“Meanwhile, miners are expected to continue working.
“We have been criticised for not shutting down dusty work sites in the past, but the problem we have is that we have no technology that can give us accurate real-time average dust readings.
“I can go in and take an instantaneous dust or gas reading, but the legislation works on a time-weighted average, which means even when we know it's a dusty environment, we can’t prove it.
“The technology to do this has been around since 2004 in the US - but it isn't intrinsically safe for use underground in Australia because of our combustion legislation.
“If companies were really concerned about dust they would have been spending money on adapting that technology to our environment - but they haven’t.
“Mining companies can’t say they want to deregulate, and take responsibility for themselves then blame government, they need to take responsibility and they haven’t.”
In answer to the question of why the CFMEU hadn’t also made better testing equipment a headline issue over the last decade, Mr Dalliston said they had done what they could.
“Well, first of all, we didn’t know Black Lung was back, but we have been making noises about dust for a long time,” he told Shift Miner.
“But it’s the mining companies responsibility to take samples and do the testing.
“There have been times when we knew the dust levels were above guidelines, but without the ability to get instantaneous moving average dust level data we didn’t have the evidence we needed.
“In the old days we could stop work because we could see it was getting too dusty, but if we try that now, the company lawyers are asking for evidence.”
However, Peak body the Queensland Resources Council backs calls for better monitoring equipment.
“We go by what the regulator allows us to do,” a spokesperson said.
“The government sets the laws about what we can use underground, and we abide by those laws.
“Real-time monitoring is the holy grail, and it is where we all want to head - but the fact is that there are some technical issues in underground mines around combustion, which haven’t been resolved.
“We have no objections to the technology; we just want to make sure we are not introducing another danger to the mining environment.
“Some large companies have been very active in this space, but ultimately we are constrained by the regulator.”
According to the CFMEU, all US coal miners will soon be equipped with individual monitors on their cap lamps that can calculate real-time average coal dust levels.
However no such technology - adapted to our environment - appears to be anywhere near ready in Australia.
Shift Miner understands the State Government body SIMTARS which handles this type of research has been looking at the issue, but they have yet to respond to enquiries made this week.