Measles looms as health crisis in Qld mines

MORE than 150 mine workers at the Moranbah North mine in central Queensland are at risk of contracting measles after they came into contact with a fellow worker at the mine who was carrying the virus after travelling overseas.
Measles looms as health crisis in Qld mines Measles looms as health crisis in Qld mines Measles looms as health crisis in Qld mines Measles looms as health crisis in Qld mines Measles looms as health crisis in Qld mines


Lou Caruana

The outbreak has put local health authorities on high alert and put hygiene back in focus after the swine flu pandemic scare last year.

It has also raised questions about the health and safety implications of having highly mobile workforces as proposed by the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance, which is seeking to make 100% of its workforce at the Caval Ridge mine fly-in, fly-out.

At least one other person is believed to be infected as health authorities try to contain the spread of the virus among mine workers and their communities.

Tropical regional services medical officer Dr Steven Donohue said the man was contagious but not yet showing a rash while attending a training session at Anglo American’s Moranbah North mine on August 14. He also attended a local GP while sick.

“Although the patient didn’t get measles in Australia, he would have been highly infectious when he attended the mine along with about 150 other miners,” Donohue said.

“We’re concerned about the possibility of the measles virus spreading to the local community and other parts of the state, due to the large number of mobile shift workers.

“Public health officers are trying to identify people who may have been exposed so they can be given appropriate advice.”

Donohue said Queensland Health would continue to actively investigate all cases and take steps to prevent further transmission.

“In addition, we are alerting hospitals and GPs to watch for patients with measles symptoms in the coming weeks,” he said.

Measles is extremely contagious and is spread in tiny droplets through coughing and sneezing. The virus can last for several hours in the environment.

The condition can be very distressing for those affected, and complications can include pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

It can be a severe illness even in otherwise healthy adolescents and young adults.

“Anyone that develops measles-like symptoms in the next few weeks should ring for advice from their GP, particularly if they have any connection to the Moranbah area or other confirmed cases,” Donohue said.

“Anyone with some connection to the Moranbah area who develops a fever, cough, runny nose and eyes or a blotchy red rash in the next few weeks should ring for advice from their GP.

"It’s very important to call the medical practice first to say you could have measles, and ask to be seen away from the waiting room to avoid spreading the disease to others.”

The Isaac Regional Council in north Queensland is meeting with Queensland Department of Infrastructure and Planning representatives to discuss a mining company's plans to create an entire fly-in, fly-out workforce at a new mine.

BMA wants to increase the proportion of fly-in, fly-out employees from 70% to 100%.

Isaac Regional Council Mayor Cedric Marshall said the community needed more permanent residents and wanted some workers to live in town.

"We need to ensure the viability of our small businesses within our communities," he told the ABC.

"We need the population here to sustain our schools, our medical services, our dental services or the local grocer – we need that extra population in residential accommodation in our towns, rather than in huge camps.

"Council's committed to the long-term sustainability of these communities and does not believe a 100 per cent fly-in, fly-out camp population at the Caval Ridge minesite will contribute to the long-term sustainability of Moranbah or the great region we have out here."

A review of the Queensland Mines Inspectorate (QMI) in 2005 recommended that the QMI should have access, either internally or externally, to the necessary expertise to deal with organisational, occupational hygiene, ergonomics and other risks.

The Queensland Mining Health Improvement and Awareness Committee (HIAC) was been established to assist industry anticipate, identify, evaluate and control health hazards in the mining environment.

Health and safety management efforts in mining have traditionally focused on the safety aspects.

This is often because the outcomes of safety hazards are usually immediate and the consequences are visually graphic.

“In contrast, the outcomes of health hazards may be progressive and not realised until it is too late,” according to the Queensland mines inspectorate.

“The effects are not often visible and, in some cases, the hazard is not clearly understood and difficult to measure.

“The same vigour and effort that has always been dedicated to the pursuit and management of safety hazards needs to be devoted to managing health hazards in mining.

“HIAC aims to focus its efforts on health hazards in the mining industry. The committee will provide a forum to monitor emerging health issues and discuss those which are not clearly understood.”

The Queensland Mining Health Improvement and Awareness Committee was established to enable the inspectorate, unions and industry to work in unison to provide a greater emphasis on worker health and the prevention of illness and disease.

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