Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) – otherwise known as black lung – has re-emerged as a threat in Australia more than 30 years after experts believed the disease had been eradicated.
Since late 2015, CWP cases have filtered through the media as a growing number of coal miners were diagnosed with the illness, which develops due to the inhalation and accumulation of coal dust in the lungs.
Until 2017, most instances of the disease were reported in Queensland, with the state’s government launching an inquiry into black lung that produced an interim report in March.
However, the first confirmed new case of CWP since the 1970s in NSW was announced in February this year. According to the Newcastle Herald, the patient is a retired coal worker who has mixed-dust CWP, meaning he also has silicosis.
“Even though this insidious disease has not been confirmed in NSW for decades, one case of pneumoconiosis is one case too many,” Resources Regulator Compliance Officer Lee Shearer stated.
“We are investigating how this case has happened, and if there have been any breaches of the work health and safety laws.”
Black lung compensation claims
If more black lung diagnoses occur in the state, the number of dust disease compensation claims could be set to rise.
Workers’ compensation figures that ABC News obtained last year showed four people pursued damages for black lung in Queensland between 2007 and 2012, one of which has already been approved.
Last year, a review of 248 miners’ x-rays revealed that 18 individuals had CWP; a figure the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) said was “more than we were expecting”.
CFMEU Mining and Energy Division Queensland District President Stephen Smyth claimed this was a 7.3 per cent incidence rate among miners, which is second only to China worldwide and ahead of both the US and the UK.
“Every one of the workers with black lung disease is a victim of a system that has let them down,” he stated.
“Mining companies have purposefully misrepresented dust levels, previous governments have allowed companies to monitor their own dust levels, and local radiologists have completely missed a public health crisis because they weren’t qualified to do the job they were supposed to be doing.”
Queensland’s March interim report into black lung was equally damning, with the committee claiming there was a “massive systemic failure” in processes aimed at protecting coal miners.
Have you or a loved one been affected by dust diseases in NSW? Please contact an experienced compensation lawyer to see whether you’re eligible to make a claim.