Pneumoconiosis or black lung disease is associated with long exposure to airborne coal dust.
While other countries report high incidences of new cases and significant numbers of deaths annually from this disease, the New South Wales coal mining industry has had no new cases since 1972.
China reports about 6000 cases per year while the US reports 1000 per year.
A recent study by US National Public Radio that used data analysed by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health epidemiologist Scott Laney revealed cases of advanced black lung have spiked more than fourfold in the US since the 1980s.
Coal Services general manager for mines rescue Paul Healey said NSW’s good result was a result of industry coming together under the Standing Dust Committee to effect improvements to health and safety.
“By retaining the legislated dust monitoring and environmental standards in NSW coal mines, including current monitoring practices which may have been lost due to national harmonisation of safety legislation, we have been able to continue to protect mine workers’ health by maintaining the optimal health standards which have helped to keep lung diseases such as pneumoconiosis at bay,” Healey said.
Stringent dust monitoring at and around NSW mine sites are provided by Coal Services by statute under the NSW Coal Industry Act (2001).
“The introduction of Order 42 in February 2011 further cemented the critical role we play in protecting workers’ health,” Healey said.
“The order requires that Coal Services undertake airborne dust monitoring, which includes collection and analysis of samples at all NSW coal mine operations to a prescribed standard, including location and frequency.
“Coal mine operators must grant access to Coal Services inspectors to perform this task.”
The Standing Committee on Dust Research and Control has been instrumental in effecting the decrease in pneumoconiosis cases, according to Healey.
Comprising representatives from mine operators, mining unions, government departments and Coal Services personnel, the committee has initiated a number of changes in dust control techniques within the industry.
By working together with industry to meet statutory obligations, the number of incidents where the prescribed inhalable dust levels have been exceeded have dropped by 19% since the introduction of the order.
There had also been a corresponding reduction in airborne dust levels, Healey said.