Coal workers' pneumoconiosis strikes again

By Safety Solutions Staff
Monday, 06 February, 2017

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The first case of mixed dust coal workers’ pneumoconiosis since the 1970s has been reported to the NSW Department of Industry Resources Regulator.

According to the department’s report, the affected worker was employed at a number of NSW open cut mines before leaving the industry in 2014.

This disease may have a rapid onset and is caused by prolonged and close exposure to respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal mine dust.

“Even though this insidious disease has not been confirmed in NSW for decades, one case of pneumoconiosis is one case too many,” said Resources Regulator Chief Compliance Officer Lee Shearer.

“The Major Investigation Unit of the Resources Regulator is investigating how this case has happened and if there have been any breaches of the work health and safety laws.”

If breaches are identified, enforcement action will be taken. This investigation can also determine if there are learnings or changes to mining practices that will reduce the chance of further cases developing.

NSW has rigorous coal dust exposure limits in place, as well as legislated requirements for achieving minimum standards of ventilation, monitoring of airborne contaminants in the worker environment and prescribed worker health monitoring regimes for exposure to airborne dust.

“Workers receive periodic health surveillance every three years. Outside of the placement, medical assessments are undertaken for all coal mine workers prior to commencing employment and ongoing assessments are offered to workers after they leave the industry,” said Shearer.

NSW also has a longstanding tripartite approach to addressing health and safety issues led by the NSW Mine Safety Advisory Council, a ministerially appointed council that comprises representation from government, mining industry employers, unions and independent experts. In addition, the council has established an airborne contaminants subcommittee to look at issues involving dust.

“Prevention and education is the key. Mine operators must have strong dust elimination and mitigation controls in place. Workers should wear personal protective equipment and attend medicals even after they leave the industry,” said the managing director and chief executive officer of Coal Services, Lucy Flemming.

Coal Services has been undertaking work with all key stakeholders to strengthen the NSW model in order to ensure best practice and focus on prevention through education programs, rigorous health surveillance and research.

“Our primary focus for the immediate future is working together to provide the appropriate care, support and best possible medical attention to the affected worker,” said Flemming.

For more information on coal worker pneumoconiosis, visit

More information on airborne contaminants is available on the Mine Safety Regulatory Reform website.

Image credit: ©

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