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Doctors appointed to tackle black lung

A special group of coal mining medicos will be created to tackle the growing health concerns of Queensland miners surrounding the re-emergence of black lung disease.

Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Dr Anthony Lynham said the group will be developed as part of the government’s review into a key health issue for the state’s coal miners.

Six Queensland coal miners have officially been diagnosed with black lung, with the CFMEU revealing another two miners had been diagnosed at the end of March. The cases are believed to be just the tip of the iceberg with hundreds of scans to be examined.

“The re-emergence of coal workers pneumoconiosis is an issue I have taken very seriously and that’s why there’s an independent review underway into the state’s health screening system,” he said.

Dr Lynham said doctors who undertake the regular official health assessments of miners’, known as nominated medical advisers, would be given standard introductory training and require minimum training and experience.

“One of the interim findings of the independent is a closer focus on developing and maintaining a manageable core cohort of nominated medical advisers,” he said.

“I have instructed my Department of Natural Resources and Mines to take immediate action on this recommendation. Effective health assessments are critical to screening system and early identification and prevention of coal workers pneumoconiosis.

“It’s critical that we have a core group of experienced nominated medical advisers who are skilled, experienced, can share information and be kept up-to-date on the specific occupational health requirements for Queensland’s coal mine workers.”

Mining companies currently select doctors, who include general practitioners and physicians, as nominated medical advisers. Dr Lynham said the government was also looking at alternative ways to appoint them.

The recommendations about medicos are contained in an interim report from the independent review team led by Professor Malcolm Sim from Monash University.

The review, announced by Dr Lynham late last year, is looking at ways to improve the existing coal workers’ health screening system.

Professor Sim presented his interim findings to a reference group of union, industry, medical and government representatives in Brisbane today. The team is due to provide the final report mid-year.

Dr Lynham said the next step was for a working party of unions and mining companies representatives to develop the minimum training and experience standards and training for nominated medical advisers.

The review is part of the government’s five-point action plan to tackle coal workers pneumoconiosis.

The action plan also includes taking action on coal mines exceeding regulated limits on dust levels, improving how information is collected and used to ensure cases aren’t missed, investigating regulatory changes in consultation with the Coal Mining Safety and Health Advisory Committee, and placing the issue on the agenda for the national council of mining ministers. as part of the  mine safety legislation review already underway.

Read our special feature on Black Lung here.

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