Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has highlighted the underreporting of occupational lung diseases and the need for provisional payments to dust disease sufferers in its second submission to the current Queensland Parliamentary inquiry into black lung.
The firm’s submission follows the widening of the inquiry’s terms of reference to include a broader range of coal industry workers and dust exposure in other industrial sectors.
Maurice Blackburn Senior Associate Jonathan Walsh, who specialises in dust disease law, said increasing numbers of workers are presenting with occupational lung diseases which are not coal or asbestos related.
“Workers in other industrial sectors such as tunnelers, construction workers, demolitionists, stonemasons and quarry workers are all employed in industries that involve high levels of exposure to respirable dusts such as silica,” Mr Walsh said.
“By far the most common condition we encounter is silicosis, however we have also represented individuals with progressive massive fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, occupational asthma and occupational chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” he said.
Mr Walsh said that whilst the risk of occupational lung disease cannot be totally eliminated, the vast majority are preventable.
“Our experience is that the regulatory pendulum has swung too far in favour of large employers, such that a culture of reckless indifference, if not gross negligence, has been allowed to thrive in Queensland’s workplaces,” Mr Walsh said.
“We believe the current legislative and regulatory arrangements are therefore vastly inadequate,” he said.
Mr Walsh said an important issue that needs be considered by the Committee is the introduction of ‘provisional common law damages’ for dust related conditions in Queensland, so that further common law compensation is available if their condition worsens.
“At present, individuals who bring common law claims for a dust disease are prevented from claiming damages for new, typically more serious, diseases, once their initial claim has been finalised,” Mr Walsh said.
“This fails to recognise that individuals exposed to toxic dusts have the potential to contract not only progressive diseases, but also multiple but separate diseases at different points in time.
“Legislation providing for provisional common law damages for dust-related conditions has been passed in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania, and failure to do so in Queensland has the potential to cause significant injustice to individuals who claim common law damages,” he said.
A copy of the Maurice Blackburn’s submission to the Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis Select Committee is available to download at https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-committees/committees/CWPSC/inquiries/current-inquiries/CWPSC-OccRespDust