Mideco’s Bat Booth 2.0 supports stricter dust regime for miners

The emergence of more cases of “black lung” in New South Wales coal mine workers has stepped up pressure on the coal industry for better dust control and monitoring.

The New South Wales Resources Regulator, reporting on its investigation of two recent cases, urged mine operators to undertake a sweeping review of their hazard management plans to prevent dust diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP).

The call comes as Mideco is rolling out the Bat Booth 2.0 as a frontline defence against dust diseases for miners and workers in any dust-affected environment.

Mideco managing director Melton White said he observed from a young age that traditional personal protective equipment (PPE) worn at mine and quarry sites was not enough to prevent health risks from hazardous respirable dust.

“The guys still carried dust away from the workplace, much like a virus,” he said. “Almost all of that dust becomes re-liberated and can then pose a further risk to themselves, to others on site and even family members when they go home.

“To eliminate that hazard, they need to decontaminate before removing the PPE and before exposing others.”

White created the Bat Booth personnel de-dusting unit, employed widely in Australia and internationally to remove dust from clothing and PPE with the use of cooled air and an advanced capture system.

Once the unit’s de-dusting performance was established, he began work to incorporate another safety feature – the monitoring of body temperature with each use of the device.

“Initially, during development, the idea was to prevent heat stress and related issues, but in this world the temperature check can also be important for detecting viral infection such as COVID-19 or influenza,” Melton said.

The “intelligent” Bat Booth 2.0 takes seconds to perform an automatic temperature check, notify the user and supervisors of any anomaly, and create a digital record showing the employee’s health status and de-dusting record over time.

In January this year, the New South Wales regulator reported on the case of a 41-year-old man with 11 years’ underground mining experience in southern New South Wales coalfields who was diagnosed with mixed dust pneumoconiosis attributed to coal dust and silica exposure.

“The worker developed pneumoconiosis despite his stated practice of using respiratory protective equipment on a regular basis and being subject to fit testing,” the report stated.

“The worker’s condition is expected to remain stable if he remains out of dusty environments. He has been advised by his treating specialist that he should not return to a mining environment.”

In August, the New South Wales regulator found a 61-year-old coal mine worker had contracted CWP because of “prolonged and multiple heavy dust exposures in Queensland and New South Wales”.

The man had worked 38 years in various roles in open-cut mines in Queensland, after spending four years at an underground mine, according to the regulator’s report released on August 13.

He took employment at Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek open-cut operation in New South Wales in 2015 but was declared unfit for work in 2019 because of the CWP diagnosis and a throat condition caused by inhalation of burning coal fumes.

In both cases, it concluded that the men’s diseases could not be linked to a particular workplace.

CWP, an untreatable but preventable disease, was believed to have been eradicated in Australia until it re-emerged in Queensland in 2015.

The latest two New South Wales cases are among 10 cases of mining-related dust disease, including CWP and silicosis, notified to the state government since 2017. Queensland has recorded 169 cases since 1984, including 99 CWP cases, most of them since 2016.

The New South Wales regulator called on mining companies to make a full review of their practices including: the hierarchy of OHS controls; all dust suppression measures, including the method of mining; mine ventilation to remove dust; all PPE supplied to filter dust; atmospheric monitoring; worker monitoring; worker education and supervision.

New South Wales is cutting the exposure limit of airborne respirable coal dust ahead of schedule in February 2021, as one step to stamp out crippling dust diseases.

Call Mideco for further information or to arrange a demonstration of Bat Booth 2.0.

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