Black Lung: Deadly Disease

As a result of recent media coverage, Justin Houlihan and I have been fielding enquiries about black lung disease (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis). Until recently, it was thought that this deadly disease had been eradicated in Queensland more than 30 years ago.

Black lung disease is a potentially fatal disease caused by long exposure to coal dust. The disease most often occurs in the coal mining industry but has also been detected in the manufacturing of carbon products. The likelihood of developing the disease is directly related to the intensity and duration of exposure to coal dust.

What can I do?

Unfortunately the risks of disease persist after exposure to the coal dust has ceased. The symptoms in severe cases include long term cough and shortness of breath. Early detection of the disease is based on chest imaging and lung function testing, usually with plain x-rays and spirometry along with evaluation of respiratory symptoms. Any person who is suspected of having the disease should be referred to a Respiratory or Occupational Physician for urgent assessment.

Justin and I have reviewed the report of the Monash University and the suggested recommendations for overhauling the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme. The results of this report are quite disturbing. We have been advising clients on potential workers’ compensation claims, including relevant time limitation issues. Several clients have also requested that we access relevant scans and reports from the Health Surveillance Unit in Brisbane to enable further assessment of their claims.


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