Harry Bruce cartoon - black lung disease
Harry Bruce cartoon - black lung disease Harry Bruce

Union calls for black lung royal commission

A UNION representative has called for a royal commission into the resurgence of the deadly black lung disease, saying 15 years of deregulation had left a broken system.

Stephen Smyth, CFMEU Queensland district president, said an independent monitoring body was needed, with stronger enforcement from the State Government on dust levels.

"The last 15 years has shown what happens when you let the employer do the dust monitoring,” he said.

"We welcome any form of independence but it really should be driven, I believe, at that state level.”

His comments come after Opposition Leader Bill Shorten agreed there was a need to discuss the establishment of a government or independent body to monitor mine safety.

"What we need is genuine enforcement of standards and improvement of standards,” Mr Shorten told The Morning Bulletin.

>>READ: Bill Shorten asks who's watching the mines when it comes to black lung

He said there were also "legitimate” questions to be asked over a backlog of tens of thousands of scans sent to the Department of Natural Resources and Mines for analysis.

But Mr Shorten stopped short of agreeing there should be a royal commission, something Mr Smyth said the union was pushing for.

"With respect to any politician, they're not the ones who have to deal with a system that's broken and gone wrong,” he said.

"The Union is not going to rest until we get to the bottom of this because we owe it to the miners and their families.

"It's a disgrace.”

Mr Smyth said a royal commission would be one of the only ways to get answers, with people compelled to give evidence into a string of things which combined to create the perfect storm and left coalminers at risk of the potentially fatal disease.

>>READ: Doctor says the system failed coalminers

"The whole system is a mess,” he said.

"This is what happens when you let the employers and industry do the dust monitoring.

"It was a system that was designed to fail.”

Mr Smyth said safety standards at mines also needed to be reconsidered, with Queensland falling into line with the United States' dust exposure limits.

In Queensland, the maximum allowable dust exposure level for a shift is 3mg per cubic metre of air, compared to the 1.5mg allowed in the States.

However, Mr Smyth said much of the monitoring took the average over exposure across the shift, meaning some workers could face levels as high as 4mg to 7mg per cubic metre.

Mr Smyth said not only should the level be halved, each worker should also be given personal dust level monitors which allowed for instant, whole of shift monitoring.

He said the devices, used in the United States, allowed workers to remove themselves from dangerous dust levels.

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