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Complacency in the mining industry extends beyond black lung disease

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A leading dust diseases lawyer has called on the mining industry to focus on stronger preventative safety measures for workers, following the re-emergence of black lung disease in Queensland.

The Review of Respiratory Component of the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme handed down 17 recommendations this week, including measures to improve early detection and manage diagnoses.

Slater and Gordon Lawyer Martin Rogalski said the recommendations were very welcome, but could go further.

“Black lung disease has returned to haunt the mining industry after 30 years in the dark, highlighting the gradual complacency that has infiltrated the mining industry,” Mr Rogalski said.

“I commend the government for prioritising the eradication of black lung disease, but it’s important to remember that there are a number of other debilitating respiratory diseases that affect workers in the mining industry.

“The mining industry has an obligation to protect its workers from all respiratory diseases which can only be achieved with a greater focus on preventative safety measures.”

Terence Netherwood, 62, developed severe respiratory problems after he worked in the mining industry for more than 30 years and he said production was prioritised over protection.  

“When I started working in the mining industry at the age of 21, I was regularly covered in dust from head to toe,” Mr Netherwood said. 

“It settled in my hair, on my skin and on my clothes, which was very irritating, but it never crossed my mind that it was threatening my life.”

Mr Rogalski said there is now an opportunity to not only eradicate black lung but also reduce the occurrence of other respiratory diseases in the industry.

“In order for workplace respiratory diseases to become a thing of the past, priority needs to be given to the appropriate management of harmful substances to minimise the risks of exposure and inhalation.

“It is the responsibility of employers to ensure workers are provided with the appropriate preventative equipment and are educated about its proper use.”