Black lung: Mines minister clears the air about x-rays
1.30pm: THE Queensland Mines minister has cleared the air over x-rays for miners to check for black lung disease.
Sweeping reforms to coal worker health and safety have seen thousands of current and former coal workers - most of whom work in Central Queensland --- receive 47,000 free, compulsory chest X-rays over the past three years.
And 99 per cent of those x-rays have been given the workers an all-clear for mine dust lung disease - including black lung.
Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said cooperative reforms with unions, employers and medicos had provided a world-leading medical and financial safety net for the state's 38,000 coal workers.
"Black lung does not belong in the 21st century, and the extensive reforms made in Queensland have changed the prevention and detection of this insidious disease, and provided a safety net for past workers," he said.
"Coal mine workers can have confidence in the screening program that requires their employers to pay for mandatory chest X-rays and lung function tests - when they enter the workforce, when they leave, and every five years while they are working.
"The history and impact of black lung was part of my training as a young doctor in the Hunter Valley many years ago, and when I saw the diagnoses in late 2015, I acted immediately.
"We've had an independent investigation, a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry, and a raft of improvements backed by $25 million over two years."
• all coal workers have compulsory chest X-rays before, during and after they work on mine sites.
• compulsory training courses for the doctors who do the miners' health assessments and for the radiologists who check the X-rays.
• coal mine dust limits have been reduced.
• all coal mines' dust levels are published online.
• Workers with mine dust lung disease can re-open their workers' compensation claims if their disease worsens.
Tuesday 6.09pm: QUEENSLAND coal miners can rule out mandatory testing for black lung disease being put in place by the current state government.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace responded to the question during a press conference in Rockhampton ahead of a Workcover forum about coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP), or black lung disease, and workers compensation process.
"X-rays aren't something we farm out willy nilly," she said.
"It's something that we would like to minimise and it's something that we want to be sure are available when it is required."
However, Dr Catherine Jones, a specialist chest radiologist who presented at the forum, told the media if the disease is picked up early, it was possible to remove the exposure and it was hoped that disease would not further progress.
"If there is anyone out there who is currently not involved in mandatory screening but would like it, they will be covered."
The Morning Bulletin this afternoon made numerous calls to try and get clarification about these comments, but were unable to reach anyone who could answer the question about who has implemented these mandatory tests (mining companies or government) and who would be "covering" tests as per Dr Jones' comment above.
Dr Jones alleviated concerns, saying the screening in place in Queensland now was safe and accurate.
She said further investigation may be prompted if there is any uncertainty on the initial screening "but that shouldn't be a fear factor for coming forward".
Workcover chief executive officer Bruce Watson said under the new legislation, workers were entitled to receive a scaled compensation payment depending on a classification scheme that looks at how severe their illness was.
He said there was also substantial support now available including medical treatment, return to work support, vocational training and pulmonary rehabilitation.
Mr Watson said the substantial support was "well noted" in the two sessions he attended in Moranbah and Mackay before coming to Rockhampton for yesterday's forum.
About 50 people, including some black lung disease victims, attended the forum at the Leichhardt Hotel yesterday afternoon.
The forum aimed to discuss the impacts of CWP, how it impacts Queensland coal workers and how workers can access support, including compensation and health screenings.
Representatives from the Office of Industrial Relations and Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy were on hand to answer any questions.
"Today's forum is the perfect opportunity for current or former coal workers who have questions or would like more information to gain a better understanding of their rights and the support available to them" Ms Grace said.
"We want to make sure that everyone is up to date and fully informed."
Information on the workers' compensation process for workers diagnosed with mine dust diseases is at worksafe.qld.gov.au