Open cut miner Paul Head, who lives at Airlie Beach, has black lung disease.
Open cut miner Paul Head, who lives at Airlie Beach, has black lung disease.

Open cut miner 'shocked' by black lung diagnosis

AIRLIE Beach man Paul Head is the first open cut miner to be diagnosed with black lung since the disease re-emerged in Queensland last year.

The 55-year-old plant operator has worked at BMA's Goonyella Riverside mine, near Moranbah, for 31 years.

Apart from some shortness of breath, Mr Head wasn't showing signs of the lung disease.

Two months ago, he underwent a routine chest x-ray. On Tuesday last week, the mine's doctor told him of the diagnosis.

"I was totally shocked. I didn't think it was for real at first," he said.

"My mind's in a spin."

Like many in the industry, Mr Head hadn't thought it was possible to contract black lung working in open cut mines.

"I just thought it was underground, from what I'd heard about it, that's what everyone thought," he said.

Mr Head is worried about his health, his future in mining and paying off his mortgage. He's currently taking annual leave while he seeks medical treatment.

"I'm not an office person. Operating machines is the only thing I've ever done. I'm worried about my job," he said.

"She's a bit rattled, like I am, but she's supporting me heaps... She's been a great help," he said.

By going public, Mr Head hopes to raise awareness of the risks associated with coal dust inhalation.

"I just want all my mates aware of this now. I thought I'd do it for my mates, to let everyone know... there's a chance of anyone getting it," he said.

The Department of Natural Resource and Mines confirmed Mr Head as the 16th case of black lung late on Tuesday.

"In previous decades, above-ground coal miners operated open-cab coal mining machines which exposed them to respirable coal dust," a spokesman said.

"Advancements in technology and new equipment design means air-conditioned and dust-controlled environments are now available to coal mine workers, reducing their exposure to dust."

The Department urged concerned workers to see their GP.

A BMA spokesman said it had received the advice Mr Head had been diagnosed with coalworker's pneumoconiosis and other dust related conditions.

"BMA will continue to work closely with our employees and the nominated medical adviser on the actions we need to take in response," he said.

While open cut miners were commonly thought to be not at risk of contracting the potentially fatal disease, CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth said he was not surprised.

"We've known since the outbreak... of the disease that anyone that's exposed to coal dust, or silica, is going to be at risk of being exposed to the disease," he said.

Mr Smyth said he knew of four other open cut miners, and possibly a fifth, who suspected they had black lung disease and were waiting confirmation.

He said the cases highlighted a need for independent dust monitoring in mines and improved chest x-ray screening in open cuts.

"They don't monitor enough, they don't do it on a regular occurrence, there's a number of things that are different in the underground (mines) from the open cuts," he said.

"They've got a mindset of 'look, we don't need to do it, it's an open environment, it's not going to affect us.' Obviously this will change that."

The respirable coal dust exposure limit in Queensland coal mines is 3mg per cubic metre over an eight-hour shift.

A Queensland Parliament select committee, made up of six State MPs, is currently calling for submissions for an inquiry into the re-emergence of black lung in Queensland mines.

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