NSW mining watchdog investigates dust diseases

New South Wales Resources Regulator chief inspector Garvin Burns is reviewing three new cases of possible dust disease.

Three workers have been detected through health surveillance screening under the NSW WHS framework, and two have been diagnosed with the condition of pneumoconiosis.

“Our case relates to a current worker in his 60s who was largely employed in Queensland open cut mines for over 40 years before moving to a New South Wales open cut coal mine in recent years,” Burns said.

The second case involves a current worker in his 40s who has spent 10 years in New South Wales south coast coal mines before spending the last few years in the tunnelling industry.

The third relates to a current worker in his 40s who has worked in an underground mine for the past nine years.

These results came after the Resources Regulator undertook 45 targeted assessments and inspections at New South Wales mines and quarries over the past year.

It also conducted an intervention program for 24 quarries in October, resulting in seven prohibition notices, 10 notices of concern and more than 60 improvement notices.

This program was initiated after a review of dust monitoring results earlier this year, indicating that workers were being exposed to dust at levels above legal limits.

Some operations have exceeded the 0.1 milligram per cubic metre for respirable crystalline silica.

The breach has prompted the implementation of respirable dust management to be part of every health and safety inspection in the future.

The Resource Regulator supports SafeWork Australia’s recommendation to decrease the Australian Workplace Exposure Standard for respirable coal dust.

It entails a reduction from 2.5 milligrams to 1.5  milligrams per cubic metre, and respirable crystalline silica from 0.1 milligrams to 0.05 milligrams per cubic metre.

With a spike in silicosis late last year in Queensland, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) has submitted 26 workers’ compensation claims for silicosis.

WHSQ conducted a compliance campaign, uncovering unsafe work practices that included poor ventilation of work areas and lack of personal protection equipment.

Similarly, New South Wales followed suit by implementing a major compliance campaign to ensure minimal exposure risks to workers.

The New South Wales Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice stated in February that the state’s dust diseases scheme is a no-fault scheme for workers who have developed a dust disease from occupational exposure to hazardous dust.

“Scheme participants have access to medical, healthcare and related support services such as domestic assistance, mobility aids and equipment, and home modifications,” the committee stated.

Burns said that the resources regulator is “closely examining each case for potential work health and safety breaches and identifying any opportunities to further strengthen the regulatory scheme.”