The federal parliament will investigate the reappearance of the deadly Black Lung disease, following reports late last year that the disease had made a reappearance in Australia.
Five confirmed cases of Black Lung, which is caused by exposure to coal dust, were reported last year and a sixth in January 2016. But unions fear the number of cases will eventually be much larger as, like asbestos-related diseases, Black Lung can take many years to develop.
The senate inquiry is scheduled to begin this month and will focus in particular on claims that Queensland miners were not all adequately screened for the disease.
Screening has been mandatory in Queensland since 1993 but the state’s Department of Resources and Mines, which oversights the programme, has admitted that as many as 150,000 X-rays had not been checked because of a shortage of skilled radiologists.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has said it fears up to 1,000 Queensland miners could have undiagnosed Black Lung, as claim predictably enough dismissed as “scaremongering” by the Queensland Resources Council. But the fact is that it could be many years before miners and former miners know whether or not they have been affected.
Meanwhile, Stephen Smyth, the state district president of mining union the CFMEU says, the inquiry will be an opportunity to look at successful prevention in other parts of the world.
“The current Queensland Government have inherited this problem, but it’s now time to clean up the mess left behind by previous governments,” Mr Smyth said.