Union certain more black lung cases soon to follow
STEVE Smyth is betting daily announcements from the Queensland Mines Department confirming new cases of black lung disease will continue for some time yet.
In the past week the department has confirmed four new cases of the disease in Bowen Basin miners, bringing the total to 11.
But the figure is still short of the 16 cases the CFMEU has long claimed is closer to the real total, but which CFMEU Mackay district president Mr Smyth believes is a "very conservative estimate".
Now Mr Smyth has accused the department of "drip-feeding" confirmed cases to the public and "dragging the chain" when it comes to implementing changes geared at stopping outbreaks of the disease.
"They've been not very forthcoming in telling the public of these cases, which they've had evidence of for quite a period of time," Mr Smyth said.
"The guts of it is, they've been drip-feeding the information out to people.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg and it's going to get worse."
He said he believed the department was being overly cautious in its approach to the issue, and was trying too hard to bend to the requests of mining companies and other industry stakeholders.
This was preventing it from urgently assessing the extent of disease outbreak and implementing recommended changes to prevent further cases.
"It's an absolute debacle," he said.
"And it all comes back to what we say is 20-plus years of neglect of the screening process."
However, a Department of Natural Resources and Mines spokesperson described a thorough process that has to be carried out before a case is confirmed and publicly notified.
He said the confirmation process started with written notification from a medical expert to the department's Health Surveillance Unit.
The department's occupational physician then confirmed the notifying doctor's credentials, that the worker was a Queensland coal miner, that the worker knew of the diagnosis and the worker knew the department was aware of their diagnosis.
Then, the case was made public.
He said reports on assessments can not be made public because of legislated confidentiality requirements.
He also described further provisions that had been made earlier this year to help identify black lung disease, such as ensuring employers offered additional x-rays to workers.