OPINION: Next stop 1000: Retired miners drive success of ‘dust bus’

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Along with the rest of the Queensland coal industry, I was shocked when black lung re-emerged in our industry in 2015 after believing it had been eradicated for 30 years. It turned out that black lung had been here all along, we just weren’t looking for it.

What followed that first shock diagnosis and the many more that followed was a concerted campaign by our union along with a small group of retired miners to address the crisis of dust lung disease in our mining industry. There were many fronts to fight on: reducing acceptable respirable dust limits in our mines, beefing up monitoring, independent assessment of mineworker’s lung checks and the introduction of world-class screening processes.

One of the fantastic outcomes in terms of screening is the delivery of the Heart 5 mobile health unit to aid in the early detection of mine dust lung disease in regional Queensland former and retired mineworkers who are no longer getting regular medicals through their employment.

The Queensland Labor Government is rightly proud of funding this important service along with its partner Heart of Australia. The mobile health unit travels throughout our regional mining centres offering x-ray and spirometry services to those who’ve worked in our mines and quarries for some or all of their working lives.  

While we thank the state government for their commitment, to me the real credit for getting the ‘dust bus’ up and running and making it a success goes to our wonderful activist network of retired mineworkers in Queensland.

QATCF 10.1 Union 2

Former coal miner and Project Manager of the Queensland Dust Diseases Support Group Peter Sharp became the 500th patient to receive a free medical check onboard HEART 5 mobile health unit at the end of last year, receiving a chest X-ray, spirometry, and CT scan with the state-of-the art equipment.

Peter said he was thrilled to receive the lifesaving lung checks and to know it has already been used by hundreds of other former and current workers since being launch early last year.

Along with Peter, I want to acknowledge Arch Tudehope, a former Collinsville coal miner and staunch unionist, who has played a key role in campaigning for the mobile health unit and organising retired miners to access its services.

While our wonderful network of retired members does a great job of recruiting and spreading the word, we are concerned that Resources Safety and Health Queensland have not committed to a target for testing in 2023.

We would love to see the number of lung tests carried out in 2023 hit at least 1000. There are an estimated to be 20,000 plus retired coal miners in Queensland and they all would benefit from a free lung check. Being screened with the new technology aboard the mobile health unit run by Heart of Australia professionals allows for better detection of dust disease and access to follow-up treatment.

I hate to think how many former miners who have contributed to our industry who are now suffering ill-health, without knowing the true cause.

To be eligible for testing by the Heart 5 mobile unit, you must have been a mine or quarry worker for at least three years in total over your lifetime, with at least six months in Queensland. You must now have stopped working in the industry and had at least five years since your most recent medical – unless recommended by a doctor.

If you or someone you know could be eligible, find out where the ‘dust bus’ will be and make an appointment via the Mine Dust Health Support Service on 1300 445 715.

Stephen Smyth

Mining and Energy Union Queensland District President

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