Black lung report author ‘not surprised’ disease re-emerged

THE man who headed the inquiry into black lung in Queensland was not surprised when the disease re-emerged in Queensland last year.

But Professor Malcolm Sim was stunned when his review found out how poorly spirometry tests were being conducted.

The Monash University occupational medicine expert ran the review into black lung in Queensland that found “major failing” in the system to protect workers.

Prof Sim told ARM Newsdesk mining and medical authorities were not worried about black lung before the 2015 diagnoses.

“I think there was a sense that it had gone, it had disappeared, it was for historical interest only,” he said.

“For those of us who work in the industry, we were not surprised this could have still been out there. These things never go away.”

He said he was pleased with how the government, unions, doctors and industry had responded to the report.

Speaking from a Gold Coast mining health and safety conference Prof Sim said he had spoken to a number of mining company CEOs and believed they understood how important the issue was.

“I’ve spoken to a number of CEOs even here at the conference. They seem to be very receptive to the report and what it means,” he said.

Prof Sim said the poor quality of spirometry testing was “most unexpected” finding from the review.

Spirometry tests lung capacity and function and is used to diagnose conditions like black lung and asthma.

Prof Sim said the review found the tests were being conducted in offices rather than laboratories and tests not being conducted by qualified technicians.

He said he did not believe issues with spirometry tests were wider than just in coal dust testing.

Although full of praise for Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham, Prof Sim said he did not know if he would continue to be involved in the response to black lung following the report’s release.