Australia’s first case of black lung disease in an open cut coal mine worker was recently reported at BHP Billiton’s Goonyella Riverside Mine in Central Queensland’s Bowen Basin.
The worker, Paul Head, reported that in his 31 years working as an open cut coal miner who has never worked underground, he had only ever received one chest x-ray when he first started working in the mines.
Workers and communities in all states and territories with underground and open-cut coal mines were now at risk, according to CFMEU mining and energy division Queensland district president Stephen Smyth.
“It’s a myth that miners working in open cut mines are not exposed to high levels of coal dust or at risk of developing irreversible and fatal black lung and other dust related diseases,” said Smyth.
“So far, industry and governments have been assuming this problem is isolated to underground mines – we now know this is a false assumption.”
The emergence of a confirmed case of black lung in an Australian open cut mine follows a 2012 study of surface coal miners in the US which found that 1 in 50 workers in surface coalmines had developed coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or black lung.
Smyth said that due to the similarities between North American and Australian mining, it is estimated this figure would be comparable in Australia, if not higher.
“The current legal dust exposure limits in Queensland are insufficient and are also not being appropriately monitored to prevent excess dust exposure.
“Mining companies in Queensland have allowed dust levels in the mines to spike often well above these legal limits, with no regard for the health of the miners.
“These operations must immediately start using more effective dust monitoring and control methods to reduce this deadly health risk and at the very least to comply with legal permissible levels,” Smyth said.