Last week, CFMEU representatives met with government, industry and international experts in Brisbane to discuss the growing critical health crisis caused by the outbreak of the deadly Black Lung disease at coal mines in Queensland.
CFMEU Mining and Energy Division District President Stephen Smyth described the meeting as a positive first step towards addressing the issue, but reiterated the union’s insistence on an open public inquiry.
“It looks like the penny has finally dropped and the union welcomes today’s meeting as a positive start of the long fight to get to the bottom of this issue.” Mr Smyth said in a media statement.
“But it is critical that the review being carried out is opened up to the public via hearings – particularly in mining communities who are reeling from this problem – and the opportunity for concerned individuals and organisations to make open submissions.”
He said the Government needs to “look very closely” at the regulation which provides for the management of dust levels in mines.
“In the past few years we have seen dust levels at Queensland mines well above the legal limit according to the Government’s own reports, which is totally unacceptable. It seems that this is what happens when you leave it to mining companies to monitor and manage dust,” Mr Smyth continued.
“While there are concerns about the response to Black Lung from a health perspective, we can’t forget that prevention is the only way to address this issue.”
Back in December, the CFMEU launched the “Dust to Dust; Make Black Lung History” campaign, which seeks a public inquiry into the re-emergence of the disease and the fulfilment of six clear commitments from the Queensland Government. These commitments include:
- Introducing legislation requiring dust levels to be monitored and publicly reported by an independent statutory body.
- Ensuring suitably qualified “B Readers” review all x-rays taken of coalmine workers and funding a training programme in industry best practises for coal dust controls.
- Clearing the backlog of 100,000 outstanding worker medicals.
- Healthcare and screening to be extended into workers’ retirement.
- Identifying other at-risk workers by randomly sampling those with 15+ years service in the mining industry and performing checks.
- Implementing community informing and an outreach program to encourage people in mining communities to be checked.
Mr Smyth said the Government responded positively to the commitments, but warned that more was needed to address the issue.
“Black Lung is the most serious health and safety condition affecting coal mineworkers in decades, and the outbreak is still escalating,” Mr Smyth added.
“While we continue to push for solutions to finally eradicate this insidious deadly disease, we are asking people who have any concerns about their health, or the health of their loved ones who have worked in the mines, to get in touch with the union so we can provide assistance.”