Black lung report shows dust disease exposure risks must never again be overlooked by industry and regulators

29 May 2017
Industry and regulators are now on notice that the health and safety risks of dust diseases for workers must never again be overlooked, following the release today of a damning report into the re-identification of black lung in Queensland.

Maurice Blackburn Dust Diseases law expert Jonathan Walsh said there were genuine concerns that black lung was just the tip of the iceberg for workplace dust disease exposure in Queensland, and swift action on the recommendations made in today’s parliamentary inquiry report was critical to protecting all workers.

“The findings of today’s report are damning and we know only scratch the surface when it comes to identifying the true extent of dust disease exposure risks for workers in Queensland,” Mr Walsh said.

“As the evidence presented over the course of the inquiry and today’s report have all shown, industry owed a duty of care to their workers at risk of exposure, and that duty was repeatedly not discharged appropriately.

“It is not acceptable to dismiss these responsibilities, and the responsibilities now owed to the workers affected, on the basis that black lung was believed to have been eradicated, when international experience has shown that this was very unlikely to be the case in Queensland.

“Recommendations have been made today which we believe will make important inroads towards better identifying and minimising the risks of black lung and better supporting workers, including the establishment of an independent Mine Safety and Health Authority with statutory powers.

“The recommendations for appropriate health testing and assessments, some of which are already being actioned, are also welcome, as are recommendations that dust abatement and ventilation plans be submitted before mining operations are commenced, and we would also urge as part of this appropriate use of industry leading protective equipment for workers.

“Recommendations for the State’s workers’ compensation scheme to better support workers affected by black lung are also welcome, including ensuring that costs for medical examinations are borne by insurers, and allowing for workers to re-open their workers’ compensation claims as necessary.

“In our view, the State’s workers’ compensation scheme remains the best placed scheme to assist workers affected by black lung, and these are sensible additions to ensure the scheme can continue to respond efficiently to the particular needs of these injured workers.

“We encourage the Committee to continue with its important work in looking at all dust disease exposure for workers, and hope that further protections will be implemented to ensure the safety risks of workplace dust diseases are never overlooked again,” he said.

Maurice Blackburn’s submission to the parliamentary inquiry is available here: https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-committees/committees/CWPSC/inquiries/current-inquiries/CWPSC.

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