Black lung result of deficiencies in coal miner health checks

Ipswich's Percy Verrall - the first of 11 cases of the coal miners' "black lung disease" in Queensland. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Ipswich’s Percy Verrall – the first of 11 cases of the coal miners’ “black lung disease” in Queensland. Photo: Glenn Hunt


A breakdown of the health checks for Queensland’s 5500 coal miners was identified in a report into black lung disease by Monash University handed down on Wednesday.

“It is clear the focus of the respiratory component of the scheme is on fitness for work, rather than the detection and management of coal miners’ black lung disease,” the report states.

At the report’s release in Brisbane politicians, miners, radiographers and mining unions all agreed a slew of problems had been unearthed by the review.

It found in Queensland, general practitioners were not trained to identify the disease in mine worker health checks – for example to identify whether pneumoconiosis could be caused by smoking or coal dust – and were not required to hold any specialist qualifications.

Only 12 per cent of the doctors were described as occupational physicians, 62 per cent as general practitioners, while the remaining 24 per cent were described as non-specialist GPs.

The GPs employed as “nominated medical advisers” needed only be familiar with an 18-page information booklet describing Queensland’s coal miners’ health scheme.

The damning report, authored by Professor Malcolm Sim, found:

  • A high percentage (62 per cent) of the “nominated health advisors” employed by mining companies to give advice on lung and respiratory diseases were general practitioners.
  • There was no formal training for these nominated medical advisors who were are chosen “at the discretion of mining companies, contractors and labour hire firms”.
  • Mining companies did not advise the Department of Natural Resources if nominated medical advisors were changed.
  • In Queensland in 2015, there were 97 general practitioners performing coal miner’s health checks and 15 occupational physicians.
  • Medical advisors without a good knowledge of coal miners’ particular work environment were limited in the conduct and quality of respiratory health assessments.

The report found chest  x-rays were only completed for 83 per cent of underground coal mine workers.

It also found “there is no clear referral pathway for follow-up of respiratory abnormalities detected during the health assessments”.

Mine workers union state secretary Stephen Smyth, from the CFMEU, said experts were now predicting “hundreds” of Queensland’s 5500 coal miners could get the disease.

 “This rate of black lung puts Australia second only to China in the world and well ahead of the US and Britain,” Mr Smyth said.

Meanwhile the CFMEU on Wednesday repeated its call for an independent compensation scheme like the one set up by asbestos company James Hardie for mesothelioma sufferers.

However Queensland’s Mines minister Dr Anthony Lynham and Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said coal miners would be covered by workers’ compensation schemes.