RESPIRABLE DUST UNDERGROUND COAL WORKERS QUEENSLAND
By STUART VACCANEO
The number of Queensland Coal Mine Workers now diagnosed with Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) in the last 4 years has climbed well over One- Hundred and Twenty (120) at last count.
Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) is commonly referred to as “Black Lung”. The Historic Dust Failure Information dates back to the year 2000 on both Total Dust and Silica Dust Failures at Qld Coal Mines.
The figures strongly suggest that many, many long-term Underground workers have been exposed to levels of Coal Dust and Silica Dust well above the 20-year threshold for workplace exposure.
Unfortunately, the data base only lists Underground Mines currently in operation so there is nothing publicly available for the number of mine that have closed between 2000 and somewhere between 2016- 18.
- Respirable Dust Failure Rates averaged 18% Total Dust and 5% Silica Dust in 2000 to 2005
- Respirable Dust Failure Rates averaged 12% Total Dust and 4% Silica Dust in 2006 to 2010.
- Respirable Dust Failure Rates averaged 14% Total Dust and 3% Silica Dust in 2011 to 2015
- Respirable Dust Failure Rates averaged 2% Total Dust and 2% Silica Dust in 2016 to 2018
- There is nothing in the publicly available data that includes any data about the actual Dust Concentrations measured and how far in exceedance of the Legislated Limits.
- There is no indication of work being performed or coal produced on shift
- The years between 2011 and 2015 had the highest continuous yearly high failure percentages, across the life of the majority of Mines with public results available. (15% Total Dust and 3% Silica Dust).
- Five (5) of the Eight (8) Longwall Mines have Respireable Dust Failure Rates averaging over 15% for this 5-year period.
- What the driving mechanism for all but one longwall mine for the yeas 2011to 2015 high annual failure rate I cannot state for sure. Suggested factors are
- Increased production output continually pushed for. More coal cut means more dust.
- All/nearly all longwall mines practice methane drainage, which require the removal of the inseam water from the coal seam. This increases the dust generated per tonne of coal mined
- Increased Workforce casualisation leading to worker reluctance to raise concerns/refuse to work in dusty conditions. Eg In conveyor belt roadways or in the longwall panel return.
- All reporting Longwall Mines except #33 have substantially higher average percentage Respirable Dust Failure Rates in the period 2010 to 2015 than in 2005-2010.
- Worst examples are multiple times previous average failure rates.
- #5 Three (3) times previous 5-year average. 6% Total to 16% Total Dust
- #12 Five (5) times previous 5-year average. 4% Total to 21% Total Dust
- At Mine #33 the Total Dust Failure Rate average remains unchanged at 15%, while the Silica Dust Failure Rate falls from 8% to 6%.
- # 13 is the only Longwall Mine with a Failure Rate less than 10% during 2011 to 2015. (4% Total Dust and 4% Silica Dust)
- # 13 is the only Longwall Mine with a Failure Rate less than 6% in each 5-year period starting in 2006. (3% Total and 5% Silica in 2006-10), (4% Total and 4% Silica in 2010-15), (2% Total and 6% Silica 2016-2018) * 3-year time period 2016-2018
- Removing # 13 and #7 the only development Mine, the average Total Dust Failure Rate in 2011 to 2015 Rises to 15.6%
- Because they have closed prior to 2018, there are no publicly available Respireable Dust Failure Rates for Bundoora, Central Colliery, Southern Colliery, Oaky No 1, Crinum, Newlands Underground and Aquila Underground.
- The Mines Department at least was aware of Eight (8) cases of pneumoconiosis diagnosed in 1995. Below are several MINES references to Official Reports. They are from the Mines Department 1994-95 Annual Report and then from the page 94 of Inquiry into the re-identification of Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis in Queensland. https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/Documents/TableOffice/TabledPapers/2017/5517T815.pdf
- MINES DEPARTMENT 1994-1995 ANNUAL SAFETY AND HEALTH REPORT.
“The results in relation to respiratory disease have been encouraging. The 1984 study by Rathus and Abrahams showed 75 cases of pneumoconiosis in the Queensland coal industry. The current x-ray screening program has identified 8 cases, none of which has a long history of exposure to coal dust. Most cases are considered to have been contracted in employment outside the coal industry
Only one case has a long work history in the coal industry and this employee worked on open cut drills. This highlights the need for caution in relation to exposure to silica dust.”
- In 1995 a Dust Study, found that 20 per cent of measurements at the then four producing longwall mines in Queensland exceeded the exposure standard, based on personal and static monitoring over the preceding three years. Cliff, Bofinger and Tiernan
- A 2002 Study, found that the Average Respireable Dust Failure rates were just under Two and a half times greater in Queensland Longwall Mines than in New South Wales. It analysed personal respirable coal dust measurements recorded by each mine and DNRM between mid-1999 and mid-2001 270 for the 11 longwall mines in Queensland. They found that measurements exceeded the statutory eight-hour equivalent exposure standard in 15.6 per cent of cases, compared to just 6.9 per cent of cases in NSW. Cliff and Kizil (2002)
- Mr Bruce Ham, a former coordinator of the Coal Industry’s Employee Health Scheme (1993 to 2002), testified to the committee that in his observational study of the respiratory function of coal mine workers during the 1990s, he noted ‘little evidence’ of CWP, and no difference in the respiratory health of underground Mine workers compared to open-cut mine workers.
However, at the longwall at German Creek – the ‘one exception’ – Mr Ham observed the respiratory function of workers to be ‘significantly worse’ than the rest of the coal industry. This was a result that he noted ‘should have been a flag to the mining industry’.268
- The only difference between German Creek Mines (Southern Colliery and Central Colliery in particular) and other operating longwall mines, was the thickness of the seam. German Creek was mining a thin seam coal mine that cut stone from the roof as part of the mining cycle. Silica exposure is the likely cause of “the respiratory function of workers to be ‘significantly worse’ than the rest of the coal industry”
- Exposure to Silica Dust Exposure is likely severely under the actual exposure between 2000 and 2015 than the current publicly available data.
- The Mines Department were aware for over 20 years that on the Respirable Dust Failure Rate was over an Average 15%+ for Total Dust and 4%+ Silica Dust and took no effective action to reduce the Failure levels
- The Mines Department and Mining Companies in 2016 were able to reduce monitored exposure levels from 14% Total Dust to 2% and Silica Dust from 3% to 2%. This coincides with all the public information about an increasing number of current and former Worker diagnosed with CWP (Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis), and the Parliamentary Inquiry into the re-identification of Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis in Queensland.