Queensland Government's response
Major reforms have been made to protect the occupational lung health of Queensland's coal mine workers.
Review and inquiry recommendations
Work to date has been guided by the recommendations in the independent review of the respiratory component of the Coal Mine Workers' Health Scheme (PDF, 2MB), undertaken by Monash University in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The CWP Select Committee released its final report (PDF, 8.7MB) in 2017, with a further 68 recommendations.
The government accepted all recommendations in principle and is on track to deliver on the actions and time frames committed to in the government's response (PDF, 3.1MB), tabled in parliament in September last year.
An independent Project Management Office has been formed to consult on some of the recommendations.
Reforms to date
Reforms that have been delivered to date are focused on 3 key areas:
- early detection
- provision of a safety net for affected workers.
Government, industry, unions and the medical profession are working together to deliver on these areas.
To prevent the occurrence of coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP), new dust control and monitoring standards have been developed, and coal mines are now required to report all dust monitoring results quarterly to the Mines Inspectorate. Additionally, the Safety in Mines Testing and Research Station (Simtars) is now delivering training to industry on monitoring respirable dust in coal mines.
To ensure early detection of CWP, all coal mine workers' chest X-rays must now be examined against the International Labour Organization (ILO) International Classification of Radiographs of Pneumoconioses. Chest X-rays are examined by at least 2 medical experts. These experts have achieved B-reader accreditation from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Since the program was implemented in July 2016, more than 42,000 X-rays have been sent to the US for dual-reading. Sending X-rays to US-based accredited readers was an interim solution until an Australian-based dual-reading service was established.
Amendments to the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation 2017 that commenced on 1 March 2019 make this a mandatory requirement of the Coal Mine Workers' Health Scheme.
Lungscreen will classify coal mine worker chest X-rays to the ILO Classification and will provide the final ILO report back to the referring doctor.
Other Australian B-readers registered with Resources Safety and Health (RSHQ) can undertake the first B-read and provide this to Lungscreen from 1 March 2019 to complete the dual-reading process.
- Read about the Two-reader process for chest X-rays (PDF, 843KB).
Regulatory changes on 1 January 2017 ensure all Queensland coal mine workers will receive a health assessment:
- upon entry to the industry
- at least every 5 years while employed in the industry
- at retirement (on a voluntary basis).
Regulatory changes on 20 July 2018 ensure all Queensland coal mine workers (above-ground and underground) undergo a chest X-ray and lung function test through spirometry at least every 5 years.
Electronic health records management
Coal mine worker health assessments must now be completed in ResHealth. This electronic records management system enables employers, workers and doctors to complete the health assessment form online and enhances RSHQs health surveillance capabilities.
Consistent diagnostic journey
The Mine dust lung disease clinical pathways guideline (PDF, 789KB) documents the recommended process for follow-up investigation of mine and quarry workers with abnormal screening results on respiratory examinations.
The Guideline was first published in 2017 in response to the re-identification of MDLD and was recommended following an independent review of the CMWHS by Monash University in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Guideline has been reviewed and updated to incorporate legislative amendments, audit learnings, and feedback from stakeholders.
The Resources Medical Advisory Committee, appointed by the Minister for Resources in 2021, has endorsed the revised Guideline.
The Guideline is applied by appointed medical advisers and other medical practitioners providing health services to coal mine workers.
Register of doctors and medical providers
In response to the Monash review recommendations, RSHQ introduced a register of doctors, X-ray imaging practices and spirometry practices that offer health services to Queensland's coal mine workers.
From 1 March 2019 the use of registered medical providers is a mandatory requirement of the Coal Mine Workers' Health Scheme.
A new training program has been developed for doctors providing health assessments for Queensland coal mine workers.
The training program includes medical surveillance, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with coal mine dust lung disease.
Lung function testing
Spirometry is a lung function test that measures airflow from the lungs and is used, along with chest X-rays and other techniques, to identify possible indicators of coal mine dust lung disease (CMDLD).
In partnership with RSHQ, The Thoracic Society of Australia & New Zealand has developed new standards for conducting spirometry tests and spirometry training courses:
- Standards for the delivery of spirometry for resource sector workers (PDF, 1.0MB)
- Standards for spirometry training courses (PDF, 368KB)
The Spirometry Logbook (XLSX, 217KB) referenced in the standards for delivery is available at the TSANZ website.
In response to the Monash review recommendations, new X-ray imaging standards were published in 2017 and subsequently updated in 2023:
- Standards for acquiring digital chest radiography images for medical surveillance of Queensland mine and quarry workers (PDF, 38KB).
These standards have been developed in consultation with Australian and international experts. They detail what is required when providing X-ray imaging services to Queensland coal mine workers, including requirements for qualifications, imaging equipment and software, image acquisition and quality control systems.
Safety net for affected workers
To provide a safety net for workers with the disease, WorkCover Queensland has established a dedicated team to assess and manage claims. This specialised team assists workers during the claims process and ensures all claims are processed in a timely manner.
Read about how WorkCover processes your CWP claim (PDF, 119KB).
On 23 August 2017, the Queensland Parliament passed the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation (Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017. This provides stronger workers compensation protections for current, retired and former coal mine workers.