A RETIRED northern districts coal miner has been diagnosed with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis or “black lung” – the first case in NSW since the 1970s.
The state government’s Resources Regulator said the man had a confirmed case of “mixed dust coal workers’ pneumoconiosis”, meaning he had also been diagnosed with silicosis.
Pneumoconiosis or “black lung” is a potentially fatal respiratory disease that had been regarded as eradicated from the Australian coal industry. But at least 15 cases have been diagnosed in Queensland since May 2015, confirming the disease had re-emerged and putting the NSW industry on high alert.
Resources Regulator compliance officer Lee Shearer said on Friday that the retired miner was a “very private” individual who had worked at a number of open-cut coalmines in the northern district of NSW, an area that takes in the Newcastle, Hunter and Gunnedah coal fields.
“Even though this insidious disease has not been confirmed in NSW for decades, one case of pneumoconiosis is one case too many,” Ms Shearer said.
“We are investigating how this case has happened and if there have been any breaches of the work health and safety laws.”
Coal Services, a body jointly owned by the NSW Minerals Council and the mining division of the CFMEU, is responsible for testing mineworkers for dust diseases, having inherited this function from the disbanded Joint Coal Board. Coal Services chief executive Lucy Flemming said there was no indication of any further coal workers’ pneumoconiosis cases in NSW.
But CFMEU district president Peter Jordan said “this may not be the last case identified and confirmed in NSW” and he encouraged any other union member with concerns to contact Coal Services or the union for help.
He said the diagnosed mineworker was a union member who had been a direct employee and a contractor.
“While it’s been a long time since a new case of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis has been identified in NSW, this incidence only heightens the union’s commitment to ensuring this insidious disease is eradicated forever from the Australian industry,” Mr Jordan said.