Mine dust lung diseases

Mine dust lung diseases (MDLD) are caused by long-term exposure to high concentrations of respirable dust, generated during mining and quarrying activities.

MDLD include a range of occupational lung conditions including but not limited to:

  • coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP)
  • mixed dust pneumoconiosis (MDP)
  • silicosis (a form of pneumoconiosis from silica dust)
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • asbestosis

For more information on disease types, detection and assistance available please visit Miners’ Health Matters.

Resources Safety & Health Queensland (RSHQ) receives reports of disease from a variety of sources including Appointed Medical Advisers (via the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme), Site Senior Executives (SSEs) and The Office of Industrial Relations (OIR) via the workers’ compensation scheme.

The figures displayed below represent cases of disease that have been reported to the agency since 1984, when doctors Rathus and Abrahams completed the last comprehensive survey of the coal mining workforce. The figures are updated and published at the end of each month.

Please note, cases may be reclassified over time as additional information is provided to the agency.

Coal workers' pneumoconiosis

Figure 1 – Cases of CWP since 1984 (current as at 31 March 2021)

50 reported cases

Cases of pneumoconiosis

Figure 2 – Cases of pneumoconiosis (including CWP) reported to RSHQ for all mining, since 1984 (current as at 31 March 2021)

123 pneumoconiosis cases

Mine dust can lead to a range of pathological changes in the lungs. In general terms, the resulting lung changes can be divided into 2 groups; those which are fibrotic or nodular (example CWP, mixed dust pneumoconiosis and silicosis), and those which are non-nodular (COPD). Due to being nodular in nature, CWP, mixed dust pneumoconiosis, and silicosis are able to be graded according to a scale of severity under ILO classification. RSHQ has been advised that 13 reported cases of MDLD have progressed to the most severe category of progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). Where disease severity has been reported to RSHQ, the vast majority are in the early stages of disease.

Total individuals with MDLD

Figure 3 – Total individuals with MDLD reported to RSHQ for all mining, since 1984 (current as at 31 March 2021)

207 MDLD cases

When reporting on disease, best practice is to report on individuals rather than multiple disease types per person. The above figure represents the number of all individuals with MDLD reported to RSHQ.

Non-pneumoconiosis conditions include, but are not limited to, COPD, diffuse dust fibrosis, lung cancer and other undefined lung disease. Cases in this category may be re-classified over time as additional information is provided to RSHQ.

Cases of MDLD reported to RSHQ

Figure 4 – Cases of MDLD reported to RSHQ for all mining since 1984 by financial year (current as at 31 March 2021)

Multiple MDLD: Individual has more than one MDLD. This figure may include cases of CWP, silicosis and mixed dust pneumoconiosis. For exact numbers of pneumoconioses cases, including those located in the multiple MDLD category above, please refer to Figure 2.

Other MDLD: Another type of MDLD or the specific type of lung disease is to be confirmed (cases in this category may be re-classified over time as additional information is provided to RSHQ).

Disease detection

Since July 2016, under the Coal Mine Workers' Health Scheme, all chest X-rays have been dual read to ILO standards.

It is important to note that the chest X-ray classification is one part of a screening process, and that a positive read does not necessarily lead to a disease being diagnosed. Results must be further investigated utilising the clinical pathway guidelines which provide the recommended process for follow-up investigation and referral to appropriate medical specialists and tests.

Figure 5 – Chest X-ray screening results (current as at 31 March 2021)

93,492 no disease identified

856 abnormal screening

39 disease detected


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