Union fronts NSW minister on coal dust sampling

UNION representatives met with the newly appointed New South Wales Minister for Mineral Resources Steven Whan yesterday in a bid to ensure that Coal Australia retains its control of coal dust monitoring in the state’s underground mines.
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Dan Teal

Lou Caruana

The meeting was prompted by a decision a month ago to take the coal sampling task away from Coal Services and give it to a private company, a move that sparked outrage from the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union which claimed this could create a conflict of interest.

Coal Services, which is half owned by the CFMEU and the NSW Minerals Council, has been the only provider of airborne dust monitoring for more than 50 years.

CFMEU district president Andy Honeysett said the discussion with the minister ensured there would be consultation with any further initiatives regarding coal dust sampling and that the NSW government would remain committed to the safety of the state’s underground coal miners.

“He gave us a good hearing and told us we would be consulted of any developments,” Honeysett told ILN.

“This giving of a licence to a private company to do the coal sampling was plonked on us a month ago.”

Whan said: “I understand the CFMEU’s concerns and I share their drive to ensure the highest possible standards for our miners but we need to be mindful that the legislation has allowed other providers in this area since 2002.

“I am considering a request from Coal Services Australia for an independent verification of the dust reports, but there should be an assurance that this would not be used in any way to stifle competition.

“I will be seeking further legal advice on their proposal and should say that I am not opposed to their proposed overseeing role, in theory, as long as it doesn’t become an anti-competitive tool.”

Honeysett said the union would seek a meeting with NSW Chief Inspector of Mines Rob Regan.

The CFMEU believes any relaxation of standards could lead to the re-emergence of “black lung disease” in NSW coal mines.

“These standards and the bodies that are responsible for them have served us well right up to now and we don’t want to risk any further threats to miners’ health and safety by handing dust monitoring over to individual companies to control,” CFMEU general vice-president Wayne McAndrew said.

“Black lung disease” or pneumoconiosis has been eradicated in NSW since 1949. It is a growing ailment in US coal mines, and Australian expertise is being used there and in other countries where the disease still exists to help control the problem.

“Australia was the first country in the world to eliminate the deadly black lung dust disease in its underground coal mines through the establishment of statutory bodies having direct responsibility for monitoring dust and other threats to health and safety,” McAndrew said.

The CFMEU has also asked the NSW government to immediately adopt and implement the recommendations from the Macken Report, in the interests of mine worker safety.

“I recently released the Macken Report and I have said that I am happy to consider which of its recommendations need further work,” Whan said.

“The government has been acting on these recommendations over some time but I recognise that industry and unions have not previously had the opportunity to comment – which is why I have now asked for their input on the report’s recommendations.

“NSW is working with the federal government on nationally consistent safety enforcement policies. I would expect this would meet some of the recommendations and note NSW continues to take the position that safety standards should be set at the highest, and not an average, level.”