Since its inception the Senate Select Committee on Health has chosen to
examine issues as they emerge. In previous reports this has included the
committee's inquiry into the proposed privatisation of Australian Hearing
(Third Interim Report) and examination of the proposed merger of the National
Blood Authority and the Organ and Tissue Authority (First Interim Report).
While seemingly specific in focus, an examination of the re-emergence of
CWP is also important in the wider area of public health. The issue dramatically
highlights not only the clear relationship between regulation and public health
priorities but also the need for properly funded public health infrastructure
which can respond to the re-emergence of a disease long thought eradicated in
Chapter 2 reviewed the background to CWP, its recent re-emergence in
Queensland coal mines and the mining regulatory landscape in Queensland and NSW.
This chapter examines some of those issues in greater detail but in the current
context of coal miners' exposure to coal dust, the screening processes, the
diagnosis, and the treatment options for coal mine workers. Specifically this
chapter examines current:
workers (current and former); and
the role of
the Commonwealth Government in regulating mine health and safety.
Coal dust level limits
As noted in Chapter 2, all witnesses and submitters agreed that exposure
to coal dust causes CWP. Mr Percy Verrall, who has worked in Queensland coal
mines his entire working life, and who was diagnosed with CWP in 2015 told the
When I was underground on the machines we used to have the
dust flying over us, even though we had sprays on the miners. That did not stop
the fine dust that was coming through, and that is what has done the damage to
me—the fine dust, not the heavy dust you see.
In their research paper for the University of Wollongong 'Dust controls
and monitoring practices on Australian longwalls', Drs Plus, Ren, and Aziz
wrote that there are multiple ways in which coal mine workers could be exposed
to harmful levels of dust:
Fugitive dust on longwalls has always been an issue of
concern for production, safety and the health of workers in the underground
coal mining industry both in Australia and globally. Longwall personnel can be
exposed to harmful respirable and inhalable dust from multiple dust generation
sources including, but not limited to: intake entry, belt entry, stageloader/crusher,
shearer, and shield advance. With the increase in production created from the
advancement in longwall equipment, dust loads have also increased and this has
resulted in an increase in exposure levels to personnel.
As coal dust is an inevitable part of coal mining operations, two key
questions arise: firstly, how to most effectively mitigate the levels of coal
dust caused by mining operations and, secondly, how to best protect miners from
being exposed to hazardous levels of coal dust.
This section looks at the issues of exposure to coal dust, mitigation of
coal dust levels through engineering solutions, and the adequacy of protective
equipment for coal mine workers. These issues were all contested by witnesses
and submitters, with coal mine workers and the CFMEU arguing that protections
were inadequate, and coal mine companies and the Queensland Resources Council
maintaining that the industry is doing all that it can and all that is
necessary to protect workers from exposure to coal dust.
Exposure to coal dust
Managing workers' exposure to coal dust in mining operations is assessed
by monitoring the levels of coal dust generated by mining machinery. Drs Plush,
Ren, and Aziz explained in their paper that statutory dust measurements for underground
mines are made according to standards for inhalable size dust particles
and for more hazardous, respirable size dust particles.
In their view, measurement of dust levels in mines must therefore address both
types of dust particles rigorously and regularly. Evidence before the committee
indicated significant anomalies in the various testing regimes, resulting in
unacceptably high levels of coal dust in some Queensland coal mines.
Discussing dust monitoring, Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz noted that the
current methodology of dust sampling is generally 'carried out with cyclone
separation and collection of the sized particles for weighing, generally over
the period of a full shift.'
They explained that although this method can show a measurement for 'total dust
exposure for the period sampled', it does have problems:
...it does not always accurately reflect the source, quantity
and timing of respirable dust entering the longwall from different sources,
hence presents difficulties in determining the relative effectiveness of the
different control technologies in use. Tests based on this methodology also
have a number of limitations including limited information from the results and
the large number of invalid samples due to over-exposure to dust levels.
Monitoring of the acceptable dust levels is the critical component of
controlling the exposure of workers to hazardous dust levels. However, methods
for monitoring these levels vary between jurisdictions. Dr Plush gave evidence
that the testing regime is not rigorous:
During my research it became very obvious that there were
significant limitations to the current testing regime in terms of quantifiable
information in relation to dust production. Performing the statutory testing as
per the Australian standards AS2985 only gives results relative to exposure
levels. The results do not tell me the source of the coal dust or how much dust
is actually in the air...It was these limitations that led me to design a new
testing methodology that provided the amount of respirable dust that is
produced as a dustload—the milligrams per tonne of coal cut, not of time
weighted averages for exposure.
State legislation, such as the Queensland Coal Mining Safety and Health
Regulation 2001, mandate the acceptable coal dust levels and the regimes for
dust sampling and compliance arrangements.
As noted in Chapter 2, dust monitoring in NSW is undertaken by NSW Coal
Services as part of its statutory functions. However in Queensland, such monitoring
is a responsibility of the mining companies themselves, with the Chief
Commissioner for Mines Safety and Health (the Commissioner) reporting on
company's compliance with Queensland regulation to the Government.
The CFMEU argued that dust monitoring in Queensland was not being done
to appropriate standards. For example Mr Jason Hill, Safety and Health
Representative CFMEU Queensland, told the committee that his experiences in
Queensland mines supported the findings of the Commissioner's 2014-15 report
that dust levels had increased:
I would say that from my recent visits to most of the
underground coal mines late last year that it is not a priority of the mines.
We had spoken about Grasstree before and that was the dirtiest mine that I have
seen. The dust mitigation controls were an absolute disgrace. Before we left
the mine we had a robust discussion to say that it was not going to continue
until the dust mitigation controls that were on site, which were supposed to be
working at the time, were fixed. That did not come easy, it took some robust discussion
to get that happening.
Evidence from the CFMEU was supported by the first-hand experiences of
the coal mine workers who spoke to the committee. Mr Chris Carter, a currently
employed Queensland coal miner, described his experience of dust monitoring in
the Grasstree Coal Mine in Queensland:
CHAIR: ...How long have you been at Grasstree?
Mr Carter: I have been there for 4½ years.
CHAIR: How has the dust monitoring gone on in that period of
time, and what do you notice about recent changes?
Mr Carter: I would say that for 3½ years there was little to
no dust monitoring done where I worked. In that period of time I may have been
asked to wear a dust monitor twice.
CHAIR: In the space of four years?
Mr Carter: In four years, yes. After that date there was
more dust monitoring, but the dust monitoring was generally done on maintenance
days. We were told that they were able to work out the amounts of dust due to
CHAIR: Let me be clear about this: we just heard from the
New South Wales monitoring board, and they said that personal monitors are
worn—I am pretty sure they said it was every worker; 'every panel, every shift'
is what I wrote down... I stand to be corrected, but you are saying that not
only do you not wear a monitor that can be measured in real time on every
shift; the days on which you wear a monitor—or you have worn a monitor—are days
in which maintenance is occurring, which means that there is no coal being
mined at that point in time?
Mr Carter: That is correct. The frequency that I would have
worn a dust monitor, even in the last six months, would only be once a month on
a Thursday when I would be on afternoon shifts—and that Thursday would be a
CHAIR: That is very specific information. You are asked to
wear your personal dust monitoring device on a Thursday afternoon when
maintenance is scheduled?
Mr Carter: Yes. But not every Thursday maintenance
shift—only on selected ones. But I only work a Thursday maintenance shift on
afternoon shift once a month.
CHAIR: I am finding it a little hard to digest that
information. I am not normally a cynic, Mr Carter, but it would seem to me that
the dust monitoring is being constructed to happen at a time when it is least
likely to show up dust.
Mr Carter: That is correct.
Of significant concern to the committee is a response from the Queensland
DNRM regarding its knowledge of and access to coal dust monitoring data. The
answer demonstrates that there is no regulatory requirement for coal companies
to report excessive dust levels to the regulator. Furthermore the DNRM does not
keep a log of excessive dust exposures. The response also shows that, following
the identification of an exceedance of dust levels, mining companies only need
to provide a minimum of three months of exposure data to demonstrate
'sustained compliance'. The response states:
Under current legislation, there is no requirement to report
exposure exceedances for dust or any contaminant to the chief inspector or any
inspector. The obligation is on the mining company to monitor the dust, record
the exposure and investigate exceedances and introduce controls.
There is no such excess dust “log” kept. The department
conducted a review of all coal dust exposure data from 2012 to October 2014 and
then again from October 2014 to August 2015. From this review, those mines with
systemic dust issues were identified and directives were issued for these mines
to control the exposures and provide monitoring records to the department to
Once mines have demonstrated compliance they are required to
continue to submit coal dust exposure data for at least another three months to
demonstrate sustained compliance.
The Mines Inspectorate in the DNRM responds to evidence of non-compliance
by mining companies (following inspections or investigations) by issuing mines Directives.
In the course of the committee's hearings, the committee sought evidence
regarding how many Directives had been issued and copies of the Directives.
The DNRM advised that it had issued 23 Directives relevant to coal dust
monitoring and mitigation and provided these Directives to the committee on the
condition of confidentiality.
The committee has agreed not to publish the information regarding the Directives,
however the committee takes this opportunity to comment generally on the
evidence it has received. In doing so the committee notes that the DNRM
redacted information which would have identified the particular mines in each
instance and in all but one case there is no information as to the
circumstances giving rise to the issuing of those Directives.
The committee is very concerned by the contents of the Directives,
particularly where mines appear to have taken considerable time to rectify dust
level exceedances and/or implement dust controls. Of the 23 Directives provided
to the committee:
only nine Directives complied with the due date. The due dates
were exceeded in the remaining 14 Directives;
in those 14 Directives, the non-compliance periods ranged between
12 days to 12 months;
five of the Directives relating to dust control and dust
prevention were issued after the first reported cases of CWP, being 13 May
one Directive issued to a mine which had no respirable dust
monitoring took 12 days to comply with the requirement to implement a program.
The committee is very concerned about the fact that the Directives
identify significant and on-going problems with dust prevention and/or dust
control in Queensland mines.
The committee is also very concerned that these mines have not responded
to the Directives in a timely manner. The committee notes that other than
prosecution under subsection 174(2) of the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act
1999 (QLD), there appears to be no other statutory consequence for not
complying with a Directive within a 'reasonable time. Given that prosecution
for non-compliance within a 'reasonable time' is likely to be rare event and a
difficult case to prosecute, there is little incentive for on-time compliance
by mining companies. Interim measures such as formal warning by the DNRM,
followed by naming in a public register of non-compliance or a
similar sliding scale model of non-compliance sanctions would be greater
incentive for mining companies to comply with the Directives. The committee
makes a recommendation in this regard in Chapter 4.
The committee also questions the means by which the DNRM is made aware
of matters giving rise to the issuing of the Directives, such as how are
matters reported to the DNRM, and are regular and irregular inspections
There appears to be considerable variance in the language used to
describe similar 'subjects', for example some Directives identify the subject
as 'dust control', some as 'dust suppression', and others as 'dust prevention',
and there is scant information on the face of the Directives to indicate the
circumstances giving rise to its issuance. The committee considers that these
deficiencies could lead to difficulties in auditing compliance or in collating
data from the Directives as part of a future tracking, review or auditing
Vale Australia, a mining company which has coal mines in Queensland where
cases of CWP have been reported, only addressed the issue of dust monitoring in
the context of the steps it that had been undertaken since the third quarter of
2015, that is, since the first reported case of CWP in May 2015. Those steps
were described as follows:
Continued improvement of dust mitigation controls, including:
of additional engineering solutions
Enhanced our dust monitoring regime, including:
frequency of monitoring, over and above statutory requirements
of real time monitoring
an analysis of operator positioning
The Queensland Resources Council's submission omitted any reference to
dust monitoring. Anglo American Coal and BHP Billiton Ltd (BHP) were both
invited to make submissions, however both declined to do so. BHP also declined
to attend the committee's hearings.
During one of the committee's hearings, mining company representatives
and the Queensland Resources Council provided limited details about dust
monitoring. In fact, the Chief Executive Officer of the Queensland Resources
Council, Mr Michael Roche, was unaware that the regulated level of dust exposure
for Queensland miners was higher than that of NSW or the United States:
Senator CAMERON: Yes, but the level of dust is higher. The
level of dust that is allowable is higher in Queensland, isn't it?
Mr Roche: Yes, and I must admit that came as a surprise to
me. I am not sure of the background to that...
Disturbingly, there was very limited awareness of the work of Drs Plush,
Ren, and Aziz amongst mining company representatives and the Queensland
Resources Council. However, Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz noted at the time their research
paper was published, that there had been some scrutiny of dust monitoring
methodology in Australia:
The reason for this scrutiny is that there has been a
significant increase in Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) in the USA over the
last few years despite recorded conformance to exposure level legislation, and
the opinion by the underground coal mining industry in Australia that the
current testing regime tells them very little about the actual operational
production of dust on the longwall face in relation to where it is produced or
how to prevent this dust entering the atmosphere.
The CFMEU stated that the implementation of stronger compliance regimes
and the monitoring of dust levels by an independent body are essential to solving
the problem of miners' exposure to hazardous levels of coal dust in Queensland.
The committee considers that the concerns about the methodology of dust
monitoring, as voiced by Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz, coupled with the propensity
for mining companies to put self-interest above safety in the Queensland
self-regulated model, has created the conditions in which CWP has returned to
Australian coal mines.
Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz argued for the establishment of an industry 'database
of best practice dust suppression techniques used by longwalls for the industry
to peruse and use along with the management of sampling data':
Currently the industry invests a lot of money in the sampling
conducted by the regulatory regime but receive very little useful information
on how to mitigate airborne contaminants. With the volume of data collected the
industry should have a fairly accurate picture and understanding of the
underground longwall work environment to help refine installed controls and
measure their dust knockdown efficiency, but currently only receive single
sample information with details recorded for a 5 sample batch not individual
While the industry itself provided little evidence to the committee
about current dust monitoring methodologies, Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz in their
research found that:
The industry feels it would be better to have information on
individual pieces of plant & equipment, tasks and activities and on the
practises of crews or individuals. The industry would also like to see a review
which will document standards of approach in the areas of dust control
efficiencies to capture a definitive benchmark which will allow for a more
scientific approach to the management of airborne contaminants.
In light of these views Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz suggested a review of:
...competency requirements for persons undertaking dust
sampling be undertaken and that a review of the occupational exposure limit is
covered and suggested legislative shift adjustment criteria is recommended
specifically in the industry to better reflect the continual changes in the
The committee endorses the suggestions made by Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz,
and provides a recommendation to this end in Chapter 4.
Coal dust mitigation
As noted in Chapter 2, a number of engineering solutions are used to
reduce the amounts of coal dust in mining operations. Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz
explained in their research paper that engineering controls, such as machines
called scrubbers and mine ventilation, are often accompanied by administrative
controls, which are implemented in mines through improved work practices:
In general, two dust control approaches, namely
administrative controls and engineering controls, are adopted for dust
management by the industry. Administrative controls or ‘work practices’ are
designed to minimise the exposure of individual workers by positioning them in
the work area in such a way as to limit the time they are exposed to a
particular dust source. Work practices can be effective in protecting some
individuals only if followed properly and consistently, and if the
environmental exposure remains constant and predictable. Unfortunately, this is
not the characteristic of longwall mining in general.
An example of dust control in a longwall mine.
The CFMEU noted that:
The now (in)famous 2014-15 report of the Queensland Mines
Inspectorate highlighted the increase of dust levels in mines, including that a
large number of underground coal mines were routinely exceeding regulated dust
The report showed that a majority of underground mines were
exceeding regulated dust levels. It also showed an overall trend of increasing
Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz concluded that in terms of longwall mining, the
ability to use advances in engineering to improve coal production have led to
increased production of coal dust:
Extensive studies have shown that high dust exposures on
longwall mining operations are mainly due to:
Inadequate air volume and velocity;
Insufficient water quantity and pressure;
Poorly designed external water spray systems;
Lack of dust control at the stage loader and crusher;
Dust generated during support movement; and
Cutting sequences that position face workers downwind of the
Coal miners like Mr Ian Hiscock and Mr Chris Carter, agreed that the
issues identified by Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz were the causes of increased dust
levels. Mr Carter, a currently employed Queensland coal miner, speaking to
the committee in a private capacity, described the drive towards increased
production as a major cause of dust creation:
A lot of the problem with dust has come with production
expectations as to how fast you can cut coal. The faster you cut, the more dust
there is. It is a proven fact. When we slow production down we also limit the
amount of dust. That is not just at the working face; that goes all the way out
of the mines. I know that recently at Grasstree [coal mine] the shearer rates
were slowed after black lung became evident to everyone. The comments made from
the longwall face to the stockpile were that the dust was greatly reduced.
Longwall mining at the Vale
Australia Carborough Downs Mine, Queensland.
Drs Plush, Ren, and Aziz concluded that this in turn, requires more
effective dust control measures:
Australian longwall mining experience has indicated that the
efficiency of some of the existing dust control methods reduces significantly
in thick coal seams and under high production environments. As the current
trend in the industry is to substantially increase the face production levels
and to extract more thick coal seams, there is an urgent need for detailed
investigation of various dust control options and development of appropriate
dust management strategies.
However, Mr Carter agreed with the assessment of Drs Plush, Ren, and
A lot of the problem with dust has come with production
expectations as to how fast you can cut coal. The faster you cut, the more dust
there is. It is a proven fact. When we slow production down we also limit the
amount of dust. That is not just at the working face; that goes all the way out
of the mines...
The committee heard that there are alternatives to the Queensland
system. For example, the NSW regulatory model places an emphasis on prevention
of coal dust reaching the coal mine worker:
Senator LAZARUS: ...Do you have a recommendation on what
Queensland mines should be doing to get the same levels as New South Wales?
Ms Flemming: I believe that they should adopt a similar
model to our collaborative model...With dust, it is about mitigating the risks.
In any hierarchy of control, the first thing you do is try to limit that
risk—which, in this case, is dust exposure—and then you work down to other
controls, such as wearing an appropriate dust mask.
Other individual dust controls, such as dust masks, are discussed in the
Adequacy of and access to
Dust masks and other devices such as respirators for protecting workers
from breathing in respirable coal dust comprise part of what is known in
occupational health and safety terms as PPE. The Queensland Resources Council
wrote in its submission that:
Personal protective equipment [PPE] issued to miners extends
their safety in dusty environments. Its availability and use is clearly stated
in the Queensland regulation. Provision, training and use of PPE is a
requirement and obligation...PPE [issued by Queensland Resource Council members]
used will have been approved for use, the point being that workers are simply
not exposed to dust through cheap throw-away basic dust masks of the types
which would be familiar to most people from non-industrial environments.
Former miners Mr Hiscock and Mr Verrall both described how paper masks
had been used in the mines during their working lifetime. Mr Hiscock told the
The long wall is 300 metres long, so you put on one of those
paper dust masks and, at the end of that shear, you have to get another one,
because they are chock-a-block full. They do have an Airstream helmet but, like
at Carborough Downs, they changed the lighting system, Northern Light, and they
were not compatible with the Airstream helmets. Therefore we only had the dust
masks that we could use. Like Percy said, they constantly block up. When you
are moving 120-kilogram flight baths, when you have maintenance issues, you try
breathing and doing manual labour with these paper dust masks. It is not right.
Mr Stoddart, another Queensland miner who has been diagnosed with CWP,
told the committee:
Mr Stoddart: ...The most important part, I think, is the
coaldust. It is just there all the time. I love the coalmining. It can be done
safely, I am sure. When I first started in the mines there was no such thing as
even a dust mask, let alone a helmet. Back in the early 1980s they brought in
an air helmet, but it was big and clumsy. While I was cutting coal, I could
wear it. It had filters at the back that sucked in all the dust and blew fresh
air over your face. But back in those days there were no automatic things and
we used to put up props. If you put a prop up on your shoulder, the helmet got
knocked off, so I would take two helmets down. I would cut my coal, take my
space helmet off and put my normal helmet on. But that fine dust was always in
the air. The other masks they gave us—you would put them on but they were hard
to breathe through.
CHAIR: These are the little white paper masks?
Mr Stoddart: Yes, they were little white paper masks. They
are hot and they are hard to breathe through, so what I used to do, and what a
lot of the miners do, is when we were cutting we would have them on but then as
we got up to the bolt we would just pull them down so we could breathe a lot
Mr Carter told the committee that while he has a full face 'electronic
positive pressure mask' it has to be removed if he need to drink or
Mr Carter noted that it is not practical to keep the mask on for the entirety
of a 12 hour shift:
Mr Carter: We work 11 hours, 10 hours, nine hours and 12
hours. Between different crews it is different hours.
CHAIR: For the whole of one shift would you keep your mask
on all of the time?
Mr Carter: No.
CHAIR: Why not?
Mr Carter: It is just not practical to do it.
CHAIR: Can you explain to me what is practical and what is
actually happening there?
Mr Carter: What would be practical would be to lower the
dust levels and not require the last form of defence to keep people safe.
Mr Hiscock raised concerns that access to PPE could be difficult for
workers to access. He explained his experiences with vending machines
Mr Hiscock: For the coalmines I was working at it has only
changed in the last couple of months since all this came about. They have
totally changed the way we cut coal, but we were allowed to do it for such a
long time. The coalmines now are talking about the PPE mask. They have put
vending machines in the mines. With the longwall you would use 10 masks a shift
if you cut 10 shears. You have to go to a vending machine now. Rather than
taking boxes of masks down and putting them on the main gate with dust masks
and all the rest of it, you have to go to a vending machine on the surface at
the start of a shift and get out X amount of masks. They are not taken down,
because the companies—I cannot speak for the companies and why they have done
So then we get told how much all this is costing. When I went
from being a permanent to a contractor, if the contractors did not fill up
because they had to supply their own, no more did the mines supply it for the
contractors. If they had not topped up to there, we would have to go to the
permanents and say, 'Look, can you get us some PPE out?' because we could not
get PPE out of the machines.
Senator CAMERON: Given that there is this push for
ever-increased productivity, do you think corners are being cut for increased
Mr Hiscock: Of course they are. We had it rammed it down our
throats that they were only getting X amount of dollars per tonne and we were
not beating the budgets, so therefore it was a case of 'Cut as fast as you can,
fellows.' That was just the way it was.
The committee notes that the submissions received from the Queensland
Resources Council and Vale Australia barely mentioned dust monitoring and
mitigation. Any issues mentioned, as in Vale Australia's submission, were in
the context of work being undertaken since the recent reporting of cases of CWP
in late 2015.
As noted above, Anglo American Coal and BHP were both invited to make
submissions and to appear at the committee's hearings. Anglo American Coal did
agree to appear at a hearing but declined to make a submission. BHP declined to
either make a submission or appear at a hearing.
The committee feels that these circumstances highlight the cavalier
attitude of the mining companies and the Queensland Resources Council towards
dust monitoring and mitigation. Their evidence also shows that they place a low
priority on their statutory responsibility to provide satisfactory PPE and to
ensure that workers wear PPE and remove themselves from hazards. The committee
believes that this attitude has been encouraged by the light touch of Queensland's
mining regulatory regime, with its focus on self-regulation and reporting and
an absence of effective compliance and audit mechanisms. Chapter 4 includes the
committee's recommendations on these issues.
The CWHS, as outlined in Chapter 2, was the subject of much discussion
at the hearings and in submissions.
A review of the CWHS is the first of the five actions in the Queensland
Government's action plan in response to the re-emergence of CWP. 
According to the submission of the Queensland departments (Queensland Health
and the DNRM), the review will determine:
the adequacy and effectiveness of the existing medical assessment
the expertise required to effectively monitor for pneumoconiosis
the availability of necessary expertise in Queensland
a strategy to ensure current mine workers are effectively
recommendations about the current scheme to ensure it is fit for
purpose for the detection of occupational lung disease through X-ray,
spirometry, respiratory symptoms and other relevant medical information.
The review, conducted by Professor Malcolm Sim from Monash University
and assisted by Professor Robert Cohen from the University of Illinois,
Chicago, is supported by a reference group 'comprising representation from mine
workers, mine operations, medical professionals and regulators.'
The submission of Queensland Health and the DNRM noted its scope and
The reference group is not expected to provide advice on the
control of respirable dust, or on regulated dust exposure limits and related
issues. These important issues will continue to be addressed as a dedicated
program of work for this initiative through the Coal Mining Safety and Health
Advisory Committee which will be considering the findings of the review as part
of the overall CWP response.
This limit on the scope of the review was also criticised by the CFMEU.
The head of the review team, Professor Sim described the matters giving
rise to the review as follows:
As of December 2015, five confirmed and two possible cases of
pneumoconiosis in coal miners had been identified in Queensland in 2015 after
no new cases had been reported in many years. None of these cases had been
detected within the existing coal mine workers’ health scheme and therefore it
is imperative that the design and operation of the respiratory component of the
medical assessments performed under the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme be
The Thoracic Society representative, Dr Ryan Hoy explained that for
30 years CWP was considered eradicated, but problems in the screening processes,
meant it is likely that cases of CWP had gone undetected:
I think that is very likely. Look at international data such
as from the United States and the United Kingdom. With the screening program in
the United States, the proportion of cases that are identified is around one to
three per cent of workers. I think that demonstrates that in a different
country with some differences in terms of their coal mining operations, these
cases still do occur. I think it is likely that the cases have not been detected
because of issues with the actual screening process, not that the cases were
not actually occurring.
Professor David Cliff, Independent Chair of the review's reference
group, explained that a problem with the CWHS had been the conduct of the
original assessments of x-rays:
The issue with the diagnoses is due to the adequacy of the
original assessments that were undertaken. So we are now in the process of re‑evaluating
the adequacy of those assessments. The situation may have existed for a number
of years. It is important to recognise that the diagnosis is the end product of
a long time of exposure, so we could be talking about people who have been
working in the industry for 10, 20 or 30 years... The diagnosis relates to a
range of severities from quite difficult to detect to very easy to detect in
terms of the X-rays and the lung obscuration, and a lot of these questions that
have come up recently are at the least-detectable end. That does not excuse
them not being detected; they should be done by competent people. The situation
has been lying latent for quite a while in terms of the adequacy of assessment.
Professor Cliff's evidence was that the quality of previous assessments
of x-rays conducted under the CWHS had been patchy:
Prof. Cliff: I think it is fair to say that the standard of
reading is variable. There has been a large number of radiologists and people
taking X-rays for these medicals in recent years. There are something like 260
nominated medical advisers registered to undertake coal board medicals in
CHAIR: That is just in Queensland?
Prof. Cliff: Just in Queensland—there is a slightly
different process in New South Wales. Similarly, they are dotted all over the
state. They use X-ray facilities all over the state, some of which I have been
advised are pretty average and some would be very good. There is no uniform
standard at the moment or quality control criteria on that radiology, nor is
there a minimum requirement on the nominated medical advisers, for example, to
have occupational physician training or to be familiar with the coalmining
CHAIR: The real concern is a quality control issue in terms
of variability within the sector?
Prof. Cliff: There is a concern, yes, within the sector
about the quality control and the rigour of the assessment. That is also, I
suppose, exacerbated by the fact that, if you have very few cases of
pneumoconiosis, then radiologists naturally will become unfamiliar with reading
them. In America they have 1,000 cases a year, on average, so they are much
more familiar with the cases. That does not, in my mind, excuse the quality
control process, but we have erred on the side of not having too formal a
process in Queensland.
Part of the CWHS screening process is the role undertaken by the NMAs.
As noted in Chapter 2, the NMAs manage the process of an employee's referral
for x-ray, they are the holders of the medical records, and they are nominated
and renumerated by the mining company. As Mr Michael Oswell, Head of Safety and
Sustainability at Anglo American Coal told the committee:
The x-rays go through a process. We do not have people racing
off getting x‑rays willy-nilly. There is a process that goes with it. The
referral starts with the nominated medical adviser and the consultation with
the employee. The nominated medical adviser refers the employee to have the
x-rays conducted. The x-rays are read and the report goes back to the nominated
medical adviser. The report is given to the individual and the report comes
back to us. That has been the process for many years. In my view, there would
be no outstanding unread x-rays for our employees.
Professor Sim told the committee that the review team had examined the
process of the CWHS medical assessments as part of looking at the quality of
the screening assessments:
The way it is set up at the moment is that there is a
nominated medical adviser. Each of the individual mines can add a doctor to the
list. That doctor can be any doctor; it does not have to be anybody with any
training in occupational medicine or who has any familiarity with mines or coal
dust exposure or the respiratory diseases related to coal dust exposure. There
are around 240 nominated medical advisers on the list in Queensland at the
moment. We have done a breakdown of where those NMAs are located. Most of them
are well away from the mines areas. There is a large group of them on the Gold
Coast and in Brisbane and just north of Brisbane.
Professor Sim further explained that the review team considered that the
NMAs 'need to have some background in the area of how to undertake medical
...need to have some initial training and then some ongoing
training and an audit of their performance as well, and that is something that
has not been happening. It used to happen. They used to have a fairly small
group of NMAs up until the boom in Queensland. There was a group of around 30
to 40 who did have initial training and ongoing sessions where they would get
together and look at cases and have some ongoing audits of their performance.
But, with the boom and the increase in the number of doctors who went onto the
list, that fell away some years ago. We think that it is an important element
of any medical screening program to have a smaller number of NMAs who are well
trained and undergo ongoing clinical audit. That is certainly the way that our
thinking is going at the moment in terms of recommending how this operates in
the future. 
In Professor Sim's view, the main issue was that NMAs are not required
to have specific experience of the mining industry and associated health
conditions and are not required to be geographically close to the mines for
which they work:
I think the main problem here is that many of the nominated
medical advisers are GPs who do not have any experience of working in this
specific area. This needs to have doctors who are well trained in this area,
who understand these conditions and their relationship to coal dust exposure
and who are able to assess that appropriately. I just do not think that GPs,
especially those well away from coalmines, have the background to be able to do
that...I think it is the lack of training and awareness of the main purpose of
this medical screening program that has been the main problem with those
Professor Sim's interim report was provided to the Queensland Government
on 31 March 2016 and released publicly on 8 April 2016. The interim report
findings are similar to the evidence Professor Sim and his colleagues provided
to the committee on 7 March 2016. The findings included:
that the current focus of the CWHS is to assess general fitness
for work, and there is no focus on medical screening for CWP or overall
the review team identified significant deficiencies in the CWHS
in relation to the confirmed cases of CWP; and
NMAs do not receive formal training, nor are they required to
have any experience of the mining sector and related illnesses.
The committee acknowledges the Queensland Government's response to the
re-emergence of CWP and in particular commends the Queensland Government's
review of the CWHS as a good initial step. The committee also supports the
approach taken by Professor Sims, Professor Cohen, and their colleagues
approach to the issue and their assessment of the flaws in the current CWHS
assessment process. The review will, if its aims are achieved, assist in
repairing coal mine workers' confidence in the CWHS.
However, the committee believes that the review should be part of a
holistic response which prioritises on examining dust mitigation and monitoring
as well as on personal protective measures for workers and screening. In this
regard the NSW model is to be preferred over the Queensland model.
Further, the committee believes that there must be more done as part of
the Queensland Government's review of the CWHS to ensure the independence and
effectiveness of the NMAs. At the present time, the independence of the NMAs is
called into question by their close association with and direct remuneration by
the mining companies. Further, the committee notes Professor Sim's comments
that the location and experience of the NMAs makes it difficult to ensure that
NMAs have the capacity to thoroughly conduct medical assessments for coal mine
workers. The following chapter includes the committee's recommendations on
Regulatory capture is the concept that regulators are subject to
self-interest, or other forces, and influenced to select policies or make
regulatory decisions which would not be supported by an informed public.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) defines regulatory capture in its
'Better Practice Guide: Administering Regulation – Achieving the Right
One of the risks associated with formal and ongoing
engagement [between a regulator and a regulated entity] relates to the issue of
regulatory capture. This occurs where an officer involved in administering a
regulatory regime develops a relationship with the regulated entity or industry
and represents their interests in advance of the interests of the regulator.
The ANAO Better Practice Guide sets out ways to minimise regulatory capture,
and notes that in some circumstances the risk of regulatory capture may
outweigh the benefits of interactions between the regulator and the regulated
The committee noted throughout its hearings that the regulatory scheme
in Queensland appears particularly vulnerable to regulatory capture by mine
regulators and other officials. An example of this issue is the NMAs, whose
position is effectively owed to the mining companies who nominate them.
Nominated Medical Advisors
The closeness of the NMAs to the mining companies was highlighted at the
committee's hearing in Brisbane when Dr Edward Foley, NMA for the Vale Australia
mining company's Carborough Downs Mine, appeared alongside Vale Australia representatives.
Nominated Medical Advisor Dr
Edward Foley (far left) and Chief Medical Officer, Dr Rob McCartney (middle)
appeared at the committee's hearing in Brisbane on 7 March 2016 alongside
representatives from coal mining companies Vale Australia and Anglo American
However the NMAs also have a statutory responsibility under the CWHS to
undertake coal mine workers' medical assessments. If NMAs are not fully independent
of mining companies, it is possible, to paraphrase the ANAO, that they could
develop a relationship with mining companies or the mining industry and
represent those interests over interests of the regulator.
Best practice would dictate that a risk of this sort must be mitigated
by a control measure, for example making the NMAs an independent position, selected
through a rigorous process by Queensland Health in consultation with the DNRM.
This conclusion was not one which had occurred to Mr James Purtill,
Director-General, Queensland DNRM. When asked about whether there were
mechanisms for NMAs to avoid regulatory capture, Mr Purtill answered:
Mr Purtill: I am not quite sure what regulatory pressure
they would be under, but I cannot really speak for individual nominated medical
Senator CAMERON: Are you serious?
Department of Natural Resources and
The committee also noted the risk of regulatory capture with regard to DNRM
officials. The DNRM works closely with the mining companies, particularly the
Mines Inspectorate and the Commissioner for Mines Safety and Health.
Mr Purtill told the committee on 7 March 2016 that all departmental
officers were trained in code of conduct and lawful decision making:
All of our regulatory staff go through specific training,
depending on the authorisations that they are under, which will include
elements of what I believe would be identifying regulatory capture, as with the
code of conduct training. But as for a specific, if you like, training module
that is termed 'regulatory capture' or similar, it is embodied in a broader
range of training that we need for our authorised officers so that they make
Despite Mr Purtill being asked a question on notice about the specific
regulatory capture training undertaken by DNRM staff, when Ms Rachel Cronin,
Deputy-Director Minerals and Energy Resources, and Mr Russell Albury, Acting
Chief Inspector of Coal Mines, spoke to the committee on 23 March, they were
unable to provide specific details of regulatory capture training:
Senator CAMERON: I would assume that you would be ready for
this question, given I did ask the question previously. What training have you
had on the issues surrounding regulatory capture?
Mr Albury: I have had training since I have been in the
government in relation to public servant ethics and appropriate behaviour,
which includes capture, so I have an understanding of the topic and I know what
my responsibilities are in relation to regulatory capture.
Senator CAMERON: What training did you get in regulatory
Mr Albury: I am struggling. Public Service code of conduct
competency or course.
Senator CAMERON: But nothing specifically on regulatory
capture; it was general in that Public Service course. Is that correct?
Ms Cronin: If I may, Senator: all the staff in the public
sector are reminded of their obligations to operate with integrity, that we are
servants of the state and that we need to watch any conflicts of interest, and
staff are asked to remove themselves from situations where there could be a
Senator CAMERON: But being reminded of your obligation is
not specific training, is it?
Ms Cronin: No, but we do undertake code of conduct training
on a yearly basis—every staff member.
Senator CAMERON: So we have an inspector of mines—I am just
talking about the position, not the individual—who is the regulator for the
industry. The industry is one of the most powerful industries in the country
and the actual public servant who regulates that industry has had no specific
training on regulatory capture. How does that work?
CHAIR: Ms Cronin?
Ms Cronin: Our staff are appropriately trained. I think it
is well understood as to what conflicts of interest are and we manage that risk
within our department and in our decision-making process.
Chief Inspector of Mines
The light-touch regulatory model in Queensland also allows for close
relationships between mine inspectors and the Chief Inspector of Mines, and the
mining companies whose activities are being regulated. This situation has the
potential to be fertile ground for regulatory capture, as demonstrated by the
discussion with the Acting Chief Inspector of Mines at the committee's hearing.
An alternative to the ineffective Queensland regulatory model is the
model in NSW. The committee heard evidence from the CEO of NSW Coal Services regarding
structural mechanisms in the NSW model which limit the risk of regulatory
capture between the regulator and the regulated:
Ms Flemming: Our model, of being owned by the employer group
and the union group, with ministerial oversight, provides us with that. We need
to do whatever the right thing is to do and we are not swayed by any of those
parties. We deliver what the actual results or requirements are. So that is the
beauty of having a model with all three parts to the puzzle—the union, the New South
Wales Minerals Council representing the employers and the government oversight,
Senator CAMERON: The dust monitoring in Queensland is
basically the responsibility of the individual mines. The individual mines have
indicated that they subcontract that to outside experts. You do not have that
problem in New South Wales—where the mine is paying the people who have
oversight of the dust. That is not an issue there, is it?
Ms Flemming: It is not an issue—no. We are obliged under
order 40 and order 42 to carry out those services. When we are giving the dust
results, they are just not going to the mine operator. As I presented earlier,
they need to be shared with the industry inspectors, the CFMEU inspectors and,
also, if a person has been in exceedance, the actual individual.
Senator CAMERON: With the sharing of information through the
collaborative model, if there was a problem in one mine site with a health and
safety, or if there was some analysis done that a miner had a fault that could
be a health and safety issue, you would spread that across industry in New
Ms Flemming: Yes. That is part of the Standing Dust
Committee—those issues and emerging issues are discussed at that committee.
Obviously, if there is any particular systemic issue, it would be alerted to
all of the mines across the district.
The committee believes that the lack of awareness of the risk of
regulatory capture by the most senior staff of the DNRM and the Acting Chief
Inspector of Coal Mines is extremely problematic. Given the influence of the
mining industry, particularly in Queensland, regulatory capture should be an
issue of significant importance to the DNRM. The committee did not receive
enough evidence to make a firm judgement on this matter, but expresses caution
about that proximity and lack of oversight of these relationships.
The risk of regulatory capture of the NMAs is also particularly
concerning given that they are the first point at which CWP would be detected. In
the committee's view the risk of regulatory capture of the NMAs should be considered
as important as the need for appropriate training and geographical proximity.
The committee is disappointed by the responses given by senior DNRM staff
and the Acting Chief Inspector of Coal Mines at two of the committee's public
hearings. While the committee hopes that Professor Sim's final report will deal
with the issues of training and geographical location of NMAs, the committee
strongly urges the DNRM and Queensland Health to conduct an independent risk
assessment of the NMAs.
Further, the committee urges the DNRM to review its own policies and
training on regulatory capture, with a view to identifying and managing the
risks of regulatory capture, particularly in regards to the Mines Inspectorate
within the DNRM. Chapter 4 includes the committee's recommendations on these
Support for workers (current and former)
The committee found little evidence of support for current and former
workers as well as workers diagnosed with CWP. While the Queensland
Government's review of the CWHS provided a re-examination of x-rays,
and companies like Vale Australia have initiated their own reviews of current
there was no scheme for assisting former mine workers or those at other
Mr Hiscock, a retired coal miner, appearing in a private capacity, told
the committee of his experiences trying to get assistance to have his
respiratory health assessed:
...as an ex-coalmine worker...I found out about the black lung at
the mines that I worked at. I contacted the mines and said, 'How do I go about
getting tested?' and they wiped their hands of me. I am an ex union member—as
in I am no longer a financial [member]—but, if it were not for the union. I
rang the union as a last resort and said: 'Can you help me? I want to get
tested for black lung. Three of my workers that I worked with have been
diagnosed with black lung.' They are now taking care of my X-rays and having
them tested... I will use an analogy. When a car gets a recall, they tell
everybody about it; but since this black lung has turned up nobody has
contacted ex-coalmine workers. I think the companies have a responsibility. I
was at one company for 8½ years, and not one person told, 'There're cases of
black lung at this mine; go and get yourself tested.' I have had to find this
out for myself.
Senator CAMERON: What mine was that?
Mr Hiscock: Carborough Downs Coal, in the Bowen Basin.
Even before CWP re-emerged in Australia, the CFMEU argued that there was
no procedure which allowed for the monitoring of the health of former coal mine
There is no system in place for coal workers who have left
the industry – to work in another industry, to retire or whatever – to be
regularly monitored. It is known that CWP may take many years to manifest and
is often asymptomatic in the early stages.
The CFMEU understands that in the nuclear power industry in
the United Kingdom, workers are monitored for the term of their natural life –
once they have worked in the industry they are subject to lifetime monitoring.
In Australia it is left up to individuals to seek further
monitoring. This is thoroughly inadequate, especially in the context where
radiologists do not have expertise in the diagnosis of CWP and, in the absence
of obtaining a detailed work history, are unlikely to engage in the appropriate
examination of X-rays or CT scans.
The Thoracic Society, represented at the hearing by Dr Ryan Hoy and Associate
Professor Deborah Yates, told the committee that they supported the idea of
ongoing monitoring of workers' and former workers' health:
I think that we would like that [ongoing monitoring after a
worker leaves the mining industry] to happen. When we are talking about
surveillance and a total scheme, that is what we intended. We would recommend
the WHO guidelines, which recommend surveillance or at least keeping the data
for 30 years after the last employment.
The Thoracic Society's view was supported by the Royal Australian and
New Zealand College of Radiologists (College of Radiologists). Dr Richard
Slaughter, representing the Radiologists College told the committee that there
was a need for ongoing monitoring to detect CWP:
Yes, we have evidence that this disease is a progressive
disease. So, just because you have stopped work that does not say that the
disease is not going to progress. It does progress slowly, but it does
Mr Mark Nevin, Senior Executive
Officer, and Dr Richard Slaughter, cardiovascular and thoracic radiologist,
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists appeared at the
committee's hearing in Brisbane on 7 March 2016.
The NMAs who spoke to the committee along with representatives from Vale
and Anglo American Coal, Dr Edward Foley and Dr Rob McCartney, all agreed that
ongoing monitoring of coal mine workers' health should continue after the
workers' employment finishes:
Senator CAMERON: Okay. Finally, does anyone disagree with
the need for ongoing monitoring? There is also the latency period—the period
that people can make a workers compensation claim. Do you both agree that that
should be extended?
Dr McCartney: I think that is the main issue. People leave
employment, and they have been exposed to hazards that can cause chronic
disease or to carcinogenic hazards. To cease health surveillance at the point
of ceasing employment does not make sense, and they definitely should be a
Senator McLUCAS: Just on that question of post-employment
monitoring: how long, in the view of anyone on the panel, should that
post-employment monitoring continue for?
Dr Foley: Till death do us part.
On the question of where responsibility and funding for ongoing
monitoring should rest, a witness from the mining companies, Mr Andrew
Vella, General Manager at the Vale Australia Carborough Downs Mine, told the
committee that he thought some kind of industry-wide fund was required:
Because of the transient nature of many coalmine workers,
there needs to be an industry process where some fund is set up for all mine
workers. As you said, I can have workers work at my mine at Carborough Downs or
at Anglo; they can work at various mines. It cannot be up to one individual
company to do that based on that. It needs to be an industry fund of some sort.
Dr Foley, NMA for the Carborough Downs Mine, saw the issue as 'a very
vexed question' and speculated that funding could come from either the mining
industry or through Medicare.
In the meantime, the re-emergence of CWP had caused current miners
significant concern, particularly those in Queensland who were now questioning
the efficacy of the CWHS. Mr Hiscock explained that since the reports of
workers diagnosed with CWP, it had become clear to miners that the CWHS was not
effective in detecting the disease. Mr Hiscock told the committee that the miners
he had spoken to had lost faith in the system:
The boys that I spoke to have lost all faith in the
Australian testing for black lung. They do not want them tested here in
Australia. They say they have no faith in the system. It went to Dr Foley and
over the years it has not been found. It is only thanks to the American class-B
readers that now this has been brought to a head. Everybody now says, 'I want
mine tested overseas,' because they have lost all faith. The guys are scared to
speak up at the moment because of fear of being put on different crews or
penalised, like where you go to day shift or you lose more money. So guys are
ringing me now, going, 'Who do we turn to?'
Professor Sim from Monash University, leading the review team examining
the CWHS, also told the committee that he had seen a loss of confidence in the
CWHS from coal miners:
...there has been a loss of confidence in the medical screening
program in Queensland. I have had emails from coalminers and their families
expressing concern over the reliability of the information that they have been
given in relation to their medicals. They are worried that they may have some
respiratory disease related to their work as a coalminer which has not been
detected as part of the medicals. I suppose we were keen to do this phase,
focusing just on the medical, to try and improve the situation, give some
confidence back to the scheme and give some reassurance to those workers that
their medicals are going to be providing accurate health information back to
them in the future.
A particular concern for workers seeking assistance with screening and
advice on how to get tested for CWP is that due to the disease not being seen
in Australia for 30 years, few medical professionals have encountered it in
practice. As explained in Chapter 2, CWP can mirror symptoms of other
respiratory illnesses, and so can be difficult to diagnose.
At the committee's hearing in Mackay, Queensland, Mr Stoddart, described
a similarly difficult path to a diagnosis of CWP. Mr Stoddart had an x-ray and
CAT scan in September 2015 after a pain in his right lung. From that first
x-ray examination which was referred by his GP in Bundaberg, Mr Stoddart had a
further CAT scan, a PET scan, multiple x-rays, two lung biopsies, and was seen by
his specialists in Bundaberg, Brisbane, and Emerald. The biopsies showed coal
dust on Mr Stoddart's lungs and the diagnosis of CWP was finally made.
Mr Stoddart explained how he had received no contact from his employer,
Anglo American Coal, regarding his diagnosis:
Senator CAMERON: Other than a phone call from the nominated
medical adviser, you had no input from that medical adviser at all?
Mr Stoddart: No.
Senator CAMERON: Has he ever rung up to see how you are
Mr Stoddart: No.
Senator CAMERON: Do you remember when he rang you?
Mr Stoddart: That was before Christmas.
Senator CAMERON: You have heard nothing from Anglo's medical
Mr Stoddart: Not from their medical advisers, no.
Mr Stoddart told the committee that to date he has paid the cost of his
medical procedures and the cost of his travel to see specialists:
Mr Stoddart: I have paid for all of this myself. All of my
travelling, all of my CAT scans, PET scans, the specialists: it has all come
out of my pocket. The union paid for Dr Edwards.
Senator McLUCAS: Do you have any idea of the total cost that
has come out of your pocket so far?
Mr Stoddart: Thousands. Plus the travelling for six hours
each way to Bundaberg and all the way down to Brisbane.
Senator McLUCAS: It would be a lot of money, in my view.
Mr Stoddart: Yes.
Senator McLUCAS: Do you drive everywhere?
Mr Stoddart: Yes.
Mr Keith Stoddart and Mrs
Danielle Stoddart appeared at the committee's hearing in Mackay on 8 March
Professor Cohen described the compensation program in the US:
Prof Cohen: A miner has to qualify by not only having the
disease, but having it of a severity such that they are totally disabled from
coalmine employment. If they meet that criteria they are considered to have a
totally disabling black lung disease and they are paid full medical benefits
for life for any lung-related condition including medications, hospitalisations
and lung transplantations. In addition, there are cash benefits—workers
compensation benefits—payed to them based on their last salary. That benefit is
paid for life. If they pass away, their surviving spouse and children also get
a cash benefit. That money comes from that. It comes from the insurer for the
coal operator if that operator is still in business. So the coal company is what
is called the responsible operator—the last operator for whom the miner
worked for at least one year. That company is responsible for paying those
benefits. If that company is no longer in business—if it is out of business and
no longer exists—there is a trust fund which is funded by a tax on coal that is
paid by the industry for each tonne of coal that is mined. That trust fund pays
that person if the company no longer exists.
Senator CAMERON: So you would say that workers who do end up
contracting this disease have significant support mechanisms?
Prof. Cohen: They do. It is not an easy process to get this
benefit but there is a very careful evaluation process that is fully funded by
the government where each miner is entitled to a full medical evaluation. The
company has the opportunity to manage the miner as well, and then
those claims are adjudicated by the US Department of Labor's Division of Coal
Mine Workers' Compensation. If they are ruled to have totally disabling black
lung they are taken care of for the rest of their lives.
Time-limits on compensation claims
Both Mr Verrall and Mr Stoddart are pursuing compensation claims on the
grounds their illness has been caused by the coal dust present in their lungs.
A factor affecting their claims will be the application of time limitations,
which Mr Verrall, supported by his wife, told the committee had already set in
for his case:
Senator CAMERON: I am asking about compensation for your
Mrs Verrall: We have a claim in now.
Senator CAMERON: So the statute of limitations has not
kicked in, has it?
Mrs Verrall: Yes.
Mr Verrall: Yes.
Senator CAMERON: It has?
Mrs Verrall: Yes. We only had six years from when he left [the
coal mining industry] to claim, and the solicitors have found that he was
diagnosed with it—we were not told—in 2002 or 2003, or around that time.
Mr Verrall: And we were not told anything.
Mr Ian Hiscock, Mr Percy
Verrall, and Mrs Daphne Verrall appeared at the committee's hearing in Brisbane
on 7 March 2016.
The CFMEU argued that the length of time for CWP to develop means that time
limits to claims for compensation should be removed:
There should be no time limits on the diagnosis of CWP or
entitlement to workers’ compensation resulting from it.
It is already the case that some of the current cases of CWP
are having their claim for workers’ compensation rejected (or expect to have it
rejected) because they are “out of time” to make a claim.
Given that CWP is an incurable disease that may take many
years to manifest, there is no good reason for there being time limits on the
making of claims arising from a diagnosis of CWP.
The committee considers that in the absence of any formal scheme and any
clear communication to miners and former miners, there are likely to be individuals
who have CWP and are not, and who should be, receiving medical treatment.
Although there have been some attempts, including those made by Vale
Australia, to alert current miners to the re-emergence of CWP, and while noting
that work is underway to review the CWHS by the Sim review, this committee is
disappointed that neither the Queensland government or coal mining companies in
Queensland have made any attempts to encourage former miners to come forward
and receive CWP screening.
The committee believes that providing access to appropriate screening
and medical advice for both current and former miners should be a priority in
any response to the re-emergence of CWP. Therefore the committee strongly urges
the Queensland Government and the mining companies to be proactive in seeking
out former mine workers who should be screened for CWP. Given the findings by
the Thoracic Society that early detection can prevent workers from developing
incurable and fatal PMF,
it is imperative that state governments and coal mining companies work
collaboratively with the CFMEU to prevent this outcome.
Commonwealth Government action in mines health and safety
The committee is conscious that at present, screening processes, health
schemes, and regulations around health and safety for coal miners differ from
state to state. The comparison of the Queensland and NSW regulatory systems
shows two quite different systems, which ultimately results in differential
health outcomes for coal miners in those states.
The Thoracic Society and the Lung Foundation Australia reached a similar
conclusion in their recommendations and propose the development of a
nation-wide framework to protect workers from dust disease. At the committee's
hearing, Dr Hoy, representing the Thoracic Society, explained this proposal
We urge that...there is an undertaking for a national forum,
with representation by physicians, workers, employers, the mining industry,
trade unions and government agencies. A multidisciplinary forum would provide
an opportunity to review the current state of knowledge regarding dust-induced
pneumoconiosis, both nationally and internationally; review the adequacy of
regulated exposure limits and associated control measures; structure a
comprehensive, evidence-based worker-health policy which includes health
surveillance strategies; and provide a means of training and certifying the
competency of Australian specialists to be involved in surveillance programs
and in the assessment and management of workers who potentially suffer from
pneumoconiosis. The establishment of a national occupational dust disease
advisory committee would periodically review the functioning of health
practices and new evidence regarding occupational diseases in our country, and
also oversee development of a national occupational lung disease strategy based
on mandatory reporting.
Dr Hoy also urged the committee to consider alongside a national forum
that measures to protect workers from dangerous levels of coal dust exposure
could be expanded to include protection for workers against other types of
hazardous dust, including silica:
We urge that the committee consider the issues related to the
protection of workers' respiratory health beyond the coal-mining sector in
Queensland, and also consider other states and other pneumoconiosis, such as
silicosis, as well as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, all of which occur with
chronic exposure to coal dust.
National Mine Safety Framework
An attempt to create a framework for a nationally consistent health and
safety first began with the National Mine Safety Framework (NMSF), an
initiative of the COAG Energy Council. Guided by the tripartite NMSF Steering
Group from 2006 to 2013, which included workforce, industry, state and
territory governments, and the federal government,
the NMSF consisted of seven strategies:
Nationally consistent legislation
A nationally coordinated protocol on enforcement
Consistent and reliable data collection and analysis
Effective consultation mechanisms
A collaborative approach to research.
The NMSF Steering Group's recommendations on the implementation of the
seven strategies were finalised in the National Mine Safety Framework
Implementation Report, which was endorsed by COAG on 30 April 2009. The then Commonwealth
Government committed $3.3 million over four years from 2009-10 to 2012-13 for
the implementation of the NMSF.
According to its website, Safe Work Australia worked with the NMSF to
develop draft workplace health and safety mines regulations:
It was intended the model Mines Regulations would be included
in the model WHS Regulations. However, when the draft model Mines Regulations were
finalised, the necessary majority agreement of state and territory Ministers
was not achieved. Therefore, the model Mines Regulations are not part of the
model WHS Regulations.
In September 2014, the draft model Mines Regulations were
circulated to states and territories to consider them for implementation.
In terms of progress since 2014, the Safe Work Australia notes that:
South Australia and the Northern Territory have mining
regulations based on the draft model Mines Regulations. NSW has mining regulations
that include the draft model Mines Regulations and other additional
requirements. Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania have
retained their existing regulations for mine safety. The Australian Capital
Territory regulates mine safety using the general provisions of their WHS
The Safe Work Australia website provides a table outlining the workplace
health and safety legislation used by each state and territory for regulating
It should be noted that while NSW has based its legislation on the model
regulations, Queensland maintains the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation
2001 which prescribes the CWHS and the current acceptable levels of respirable
dust in Queensland.
Both Safe Work Australia and the Federal Department of Industry,
Innovation and Science were invited to make a submission to the committee's
inquiry. Safe Work Australia declined to make a submission, but has provided
answers to written questions. The Department of Industry, Innovation and
Science did not provide a submission.
Although CWP cases have at this stage been confined to Queensland, it is
entirely possible that cases will emerge in other Australian states. Therefore,
the committee believes that without Commonwealth Government involvement, any
response to the re‑emergence of CWP will not be adequate.
The NMSF has been a valuable step towards developing national standards,
but progress since 2014 has been limited as the level of engagement with the
states has changed from the COAG Ministerial level to departmental officials. Under
these circumstances there appears to be little prospect of the structural
change which is needed to ensure that state regulations, particularly in
Queensland, effectively protect workers' health and safety.
In terms of its overall conclusions, the committee believes that it is
clear from the evidence that dust mitigation should share priority with
protection of workers and health screening. The more coal dust mine workers are
exposed to, the greater their chance of developing CWP. The longer that CWP
goes undiagnosed, the greater the chance of it progressing to PMF. So it is
clear that high quality dust controls and monitoring in the workplace, in
tandem with best practice health monitoring outside the workplace, are
essential to eradicating CWP in Australian coal workers.
In addition, the committee believes that all coal miners who contract
CWP in Australian coal mines should have the benefit of free on-going,
nationally consistent medical treatment.
The committee further believes that all coal miners who contract CWP in
Australian coal miners should be able to lodge a claim for support without
time-limit. In the event of the coal worker's death, families of those miners
should be entitled to lodge the claim. The model for such a scheme could be
based on the US model described by Professor Cohen. The committee makes
recommendations on support and assistance for current and former coal miners in
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