Note: From 1 July 2020 the functions and powers performed or exercised by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines referenced below are now performed or exercised by Resources Safety and Health Queensland.
To address coal workers' pneumoconiosis, the government reviewed and amended the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation 2017 in 2017. Further changes to the regulation were made in 2018. The changes are detailed in:
- Mining Safety and Health Legislation (Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis and Other Matters) Amendment Regulation 2016 (the Amendment Regulation 2016) and explanatory notes
- Coal Mining Safety and Health (Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis) Amendment Regulation 2018 (the Amendment Regulation 2018) and explanatory notes.
Mineral mines and quarry workers
To enhance respiratory health surveillance for mineral mine and quarry workers, the government reviewed and amended the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Regulation 2017 in 2020. The changes are detailed in:
- Mining Safety and Health Legislation (Health Surveillance) Amendment Regulation 2020 (the Amendment Regulation 2020) and explanatory note.
Summary of changes
Commencing 1 January 2017, the changes included:
- strengthened respirable dust monitoring requirements
- coal worker's pneumoconiosis and certain other occupational diseases now listed as 'notifiable'
- broadened coal mine worker health assessment requirements
- the introduction of retirement examinations for coal mine workers leaving the industry
- the specified frequency of respiratory health screening for above-ground coal mine workers.
Respirable dust management
Regulatory requirements for the management of respirable dust are being strengthened for all Queensland coal mine operators. These changes require regular reporting of personal respirable dust monitoring records and specific actions by mines each time respirable dust concentrations exceed prescribed levels (including notification, investigation, system improvements and resampling).
In addition, the task of carrying out respirable dust sampling at a coal mine in accordance with AS 2985 will be listed as a prescribed task for section 76(3)(a) of the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999. This means any person carrying out respirable dust sampling at a coal mine in accordance with AS 2985 must have the recognised competencies as determined by the Coal Mining Safety and Health Advisory Committee.
Recognised standards are a method used to achieve an acceptable standard of risk for people working in coal mines.
Two new recognised standards will drive best practice monitoring and control of respirable dust in coal mines:
- The recognised standard for monitoring respirable dust in coal mines provides the minimum requirements for monitoring and reporting respirable dust levels to be included in a coal mine's safety and health management system.
- The recognised standard for underground respirable dust control will provide a comprehensive approach for managing respirable dust using known risk management concepts and best practice dust management controls.
Notifiable occupational diseases
The Amendment Regulation 2016 also adds a number of occupational diseases that must be reported when the senior executive in charge of a mine site (the site senior executive) becomes aware of an occurrence. These notifiable diseases are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coal workers' pneumoconiosis, legionellosis and silicosis.
Find out more about reporting prescribed diseases.
Health assessment requirements
To broaden health assessment requirements, the following changes apply:
- All new coal mine workers (to be employed for a task other than a low-risk task) undergo a health assessment inclusive of respiratory function and chest X-ray examinations on entry into the coal mining industry.
- Respiratory function and chest X-ray examinations for above-ground coal mine workers occur at least once every 10 years. (This has now been changed to at least once every 5 years for consistency with the requirements for underground coal mine workers.)
- Respiratory function and chest X-ray examinations for underground coal mine workers (and former underground workers working above-ground) occur at least once every 5 years.
- Respiratory function examinations undertaken as part of periodic health assessments include a comparative assessment with previous respiratory function results when available.
- All medical examinations are performed by a person qualified and competent to conduct the examination.
- X-ray examinations are performed in accordance with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Guidelines for the Use of the ILO International Classification of Radiographs of Pneumoconioses.
New employer obligations that commenced on 1 January 2017 provide retiring coal mine workers with the opportunity to voluntarily undergo an exit assessment (consisting of respiratory function and chest X-ray examinations). Employers are required to organise and pay for a retirement examination for any eligible retiring coal mine worker who requests one. The obligation applies to all retiring coal mine workers who have worked in the coal mining industry for at least 3 years and who have not already undergone such examinations as part of a routine health assessment during the past 3 years.
Summary of changes
The government has made further amendments to the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation 2017. These changes were required to sustain and enhance the improvements made in implementing the Monash review recommendations. They build on the regulation changes which commenced on 1 January 2017.
The amendments were rolled out in 2 phases.
From 20 July 2018, the changes:
- introduced health surveillance as a purpose of the scheme
- enabled health surveillance
- increased the minimum frequency of chest X-ray and spirometry examinations to 5 years for above-ground workers.
From 1 March 2019, the changes:
- established a mandatory 'approved provider' framework
- incorporated a right to a respiratory health assessment for retired and former workers
- included consequential amendments, including the replacement of the term 'nominated medical adviser' with 'appointed medical adviser'.
Purpose of the scheme
The changes introduced health surveillance as a purpose of the scheme, including respiratory health screening, referral for diagnosis and management and the monitoring of trends in coal mine dust lung disease.
Enabling health surveillance
The Amendment Regulation 2018 also includes changes to:
- allow the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME) to release identified data for the purposes of research if the research is approved by an ethics committee
- enable all workers to receive a comparative assessment by allowing the relevant doctor to access the worker’s previous assessments from DNRME without the worker's consent.
Respiratory screening frequency
The frequency for respiratory screening for above-ground coal mine workers has been increased from at least once every 10 years to at least once every 5 years, aligning with what is required for underground workers.
Mandatory approved provider framework
The government introduced a voluntary register of doctors and medical providers in July 2017. Major coal companies agreed, where possible, to use registered medical providers to undertake health assessments. The amendments introduced an approved provider framework and made the use of these providers mandatory from 1 March 2019. From this date, only the providers approved by DNRME can carry out the following scheme functions:
- doctors carrying out assessments as examining medical officers
- doctors carrying out, supervising and reporting on assessments as appointed medical advisers (formerly known as nominated medical advisers)
- practices providing spirometry for an assessment
- practices taking chest X-rays for an assessment
- persons carrying out a chest X-ray examination for an assessment
- persons providing spirometry training to qualify an individual to perform spirometry for an assessment.
Under this framework, approved providers must be appropriately qualified and fit and proper, abide by prescribed guidelines, and be subject to audit.
On commencement of the approved provider framework, providers already registered with DNRME were taken to be approved providers; however, they must formally apply and be approved within the following 2-year transition period.
In addition, from 1 March 2019, employers must appoint a doctor (appointed medical adviser), who must be a supervising doctor approved by DNRME, to undertake the role of supervising and reporting on health assessments. Nominated medical advisers (NMA) who had been appointed by 1 March 2019 will be taken to be an appointed medical adviser under the amended regulation for a period of 12 months.
Former worker assessments
The Amendment Regulation 2018 provided a right to a voluntary respiratory health assessment for former coal mine workers through an assessment process administered by DNRME. Retiring coal mine workers are still entitled to ask their employer for an exit assessment (formerly known as a retirement examination) 3 months before or after their date of retirement.
The regulation also made amendments to define how doctors send health assessments to DNRME to support the transition to an electronic system of data entry and storage.
Summary of changes
Changes to the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Regulation 2017 commenced 1 September 2020.
These changes included:
- mandatory respiratory health surveillance for mineral mine and quarry workers unless risk is very low
- defined content of respiratory health medical examinations
- exit respiratory health medicals for workers leaving the industry
- right to free respiratory health medicals for retired and former workers.
Respiratory health surveillance for mineral mine and quarry workers
The site senior executive (SSE) is required to arrange respiratory health surveillance to be undertaken prior to a person commencing work in the industry and then at least once every 5 years.
New medicals are not necessarily required when changing sites or employers, unless the risk has changed.
Medicals and any associated travel expenses must be paid by the employer.
As part of the transitional arrangements, SSEs had until 1 September 2022 to ensure all workers have had required medicals.
The SSE may, through a risk assessment that considers current and previous exposure, determine that respiratory health surveillance is not required if the worker’s exposure to respiratory hazards is so minimal that it can be effectively managed without respiratory health surveillance. This same mechanism applies under the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme.
Content of respiratory health surveillance
Medical examinations for respiratory health surveillance must include:
- a chest examination
- a chest X-ray, dual-read to the International Labour Organization (ILO) International Classification of Radiographs of Pneumoconioses
- a spirometry test and comparison with previous spirometry results if available.
Any abnormal results must be investigated (e.g. high resolution computed tomography scan).
Delaying a medical examination
In exceptional circumstances, the doctor may delay an examination for up to 12 months. The doctor will consider the risks associated with the examination against the risks of not doing this examination.
This provision addresses potential situations where there is a health risk to the worker associated with the examination that outweighs the risk to the worker of delaying the examination.
For example, where a worker is pregnant, the chest x-ray examination could be performed up to 12 months after the due date for the respiratory health surveillance, to minimise any risk to an unborn child.
Exit respiratory health surveillance for retiring workers
Retiring mineral mine and quarry workers can request respiratory health surveillance from their employer.
The entitlement applies to all retiring workers who have worked in the mineral mine or quarry industry for at least 3 years and who have not already undergone such examinations during the past 3 years.
Free medicals for retired or former workers
A person who has permanently stopped being a worker, worked for at least 3 years in the mineral mining and quarrying industry, and has not had respiratory health surveillance in the last 5 years, can obtain a free medical from the government.
Contact the Mine Dust Health Support Service on 1300 445 715 to apply.
- Read about the Coal Mine Workers' Health Scheme and the different roles and responsibilities under the scheme.
- Read about respiratory health surveillance for mineral mine and quarry workers.
- Find out about dust hazard management in mines.
- Learn about safety and health reporting requirements for mines.
- Access the register of doctors and medical providers.
- View the recognised competencies for coal mining positions.