PERTH (miningweekly.com) – The Queensland government has introduced new accreditation standards for people conducting the compulsory lung function test on the state’s 30 000 coal miners, as part of its reform to tackle black lung disease.
“The new standards will ensure quality tests, so if a coal mine worker has lung function issues, those signs will be picked up immediately,” Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said on Wednesday.
“Early identification of black lung, or any other lung disease, is critical. Bringing spirometry tests up to world-class standard is another measure, on top of our compulsory chest X-ray reforms, to protect the health of our coal mine workers.”
The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, the region’s leading lung health peak body, will develop the new standards, which will come into effect by the end of 2017.
These standards will set out clear requirements for medical practices conducting the tests, including training for staff members, spirometry testing and interpretation, spirometry equipment, and quality control.
Lynham said an independent body would be appointed to check standards and accredit medical practices conducting the tests.
The changes flow from the independent Monash University review into the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme. As an immediate response to the review, practices have been required to meet the requirements set out in the Queensland Health guidelines.
However, the review recommended additional training for individuals conducting the tests, the use of accredited facilities, and ongoing quality assurance. The revised screening programme implements these recommendations.
Coal miners’ compulsory chest X-rays have been assessed at least twice since July, first by an Australian radiologist and then by US-based experts. By the end of this year, both checks will be done by qualified B-reader Australian radiologists.
“These important reforms will work in tandem with the dual-reading of coal mine workers’ chest X-rays to ensure lung health issues are identified early,” Lynham said.
Other reforms in place from the Monash review include coal companies providing dust monitoring data to the Mines Inspectorate every three months for publishing online, black lung becoming a notifiable disease, meaning mining companies must report known cases to the Queensland Mines Inspectorate, and coal mine workers permanently retiring from the industry being able to ask their employer for a retirement examination, including respiratory function and chest X-ray.
The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) has welcomed the latest reforms, with CEO Ian Macfarlane saying the industry is fully cooperating with government to ensure the medical assessment system is improved and industry operates under best practice so that this disease is eradicated.
“Everyone involved wants to right the wrongs of the past and we want to make sure that we detect cases and this is a major step forward to correct what was previously deficient in the assessment of lung function," Macfarlane said.
Since May 2015, 21 Queensland miners have been diagnosed with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, which is caused by long-term exposure to respirable coal dust.