23rd May 2019

The NSW Resources Regulator is urging current and former coal mine workers to maintain regular health screening after releasing the findings of its investigation into a former coal mine worker diagnosed with a mixed dust disease in 2017.

Acting Deputy Secretary and Chief Compliance Officer Anthony Keon said the investigation showed ‘Worker Y’ was historically exposed to dusty underground environments at a number of coal mines over a long period of time.

“Worker Y’s medical condition can’t be attributed to specific exposure or specific sites, and no enforcement action can be taken in this case – but it underlines both the need for all current and former coal mine workers to get regular checks and the importance of the stringent regime we now have in place here in NSW,” he said.

“Our approach is a combination of the most rigorous coal dust exposure limits in Australia; 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.

“Coal mine workers receive periodic health surveillance every three years. Medical assessments are also undertaken for all coal mine workers prior to commencing employment and assessments are offered to workers when they leave the industry.”

Mr Keon said the NSW regime is underpinned by a strict compliance and enforcement approach.

“Over the past 12 months the Resources Regulator has undertaken 68 targeted assessments and planned inspections at NSW coal mines as part of a major compliance campaign to ensure mines have appropriate dust control measures in place to minimise exposure risks to workers.

“The regime is working - inspection and mandatory testing shows nearly all NSW coal mines have reduced exposure levels to well below the prescribed allowable limits. Cases such as Worker Y demonstrate the scheme's effectiveness in identifying legacy issues and ensuring early intervention and appropriate care,” he said.

Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Coal Services Lucy Flemming said the case highlights how important it is for past and current coal mine workers to undertake regular health surveillance screening, provided to them as part of the NSW regulatory framework.

“Prevention and education is the key – mine operators must have strong dust elimination and mitigation controls in place, workers should wear personal protective equipment when required and continue to attend for their health surveillance medicals even after they leave the industry,” Ms Flemming said.

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

Current and former coal mine workers are encouraged to contact Coal Services Health on 02 6571 9900 to arrange a medical if they have concerns about their respiratory health.

The investigation report can be accessed here.

Background

NSW has a comprehensive regulatory scheme in place under the Resources Regulator, Coal Services and specific mining health and safety legislation.

This is supported by a long-standing tripartite approach to addressing health and safety issues, led by the NSW Mine Safety Advisory Council (MSAC), a Ministerially appointed council that comprises representation from government, mining industry employers, unions and independent experts.

NSW also has The Standing Committee on Airborne Contaminants and Occupational Hygiene (known as the Standing Dust Committee). It is a sub-committee of the Coal Services Board and has operated continuously since 1954.

The purpose of this Committee is to ensure reduced exposure to airborne contaminants, improvements in occupational hygiene and elimination of occupational disease. Membership is comprised of representatives from Coal Services, Resources Regulator, CFMMEU, NSW Minerals Council and Mine Managers Association plus two independents offering additional expertise.