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Mining and Energy Union Queensland

The Mining and Energy Union Queensland District’s global health and safety conference brought together international representatives for a weeklong congress about the prevalence of respiratory disease in the mining industry. 

World experts on dust disease, including doctors, researchers, academics, and workplace representatives from various countries, including Albania, South Africa, Colombia, USA, Indonesia and Mongolia gathered in Cairns on February 27 to 29 to discuss and make recommendations to combat respiratory disease in the mining industry.

Mining and Energy Union Vice-President Stephen Smyth said that since the re-detection of Black Lung in 2015, cooperation between unions, regulators and medical professionals has led to a suite of reforms aimed at preventing and screening for the disease in Queensland’s black coal industry. 

Stephen said that the conference was an opportunity for stakeholders to come together to learn from one another and to begin to develop best practices that can be rolled out globally. 

“If a disease like black lung, once thought to be eradicated, can re-emerge in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in one of its most profitable industries we know that this is a problem for workers in this industry elsewhere.

“We brought together leading experts and stakeholders to have an open dialogue focused on the prevention, medical surveillance, treatment, and compensation of those affected or at risk of developing a respiratory illness at work.  

“It shouldn’t be part and parcel that just because you work in a hazardous industry that you should expect to develop a disease at some stage in your working life.”

Among the recommendations and actions from the Conference is the aim to educate, empower, and support all workers to know their OHS rights in the workplace. In particular, Queensland District aims to support new delegates’ rights laws with Union delegates being able to represent anyone who works at the same enterprise including labour hire, contractors, and non-union Workers.

Another key recommendation is collaboration, from creating a central platform to share information on best practices, standards, and strategies that work, collaborating with organisations such as RSHQ and UIC MinER Center and international Trade Unions, and coordinating with IndustriALL Global Union to consider the development of a global campaign around exposures to coal mine dust and crystalline silica.

This will entail formalising a global working group with relevant experience in targeted areas of respiratory health and associated research and involving representatives from many countries looking at education, standards, and best approaches.

It was also recommended that all Global Unions should develop campaigns to protect workers from mine dust lung diseases and other occupational health and safety issues, incorporating the concepts such as workers right to refuse unsafe work and stand up, speak out and return home safely.

Stephen said that a key theme of the conference was to develop ways to empower workers to ask questions about their respiratory health at work. 

“I appreciate that this is a big topic, and workers might find it overwhelming, but a key thing we want to emphasise is that dust disease is preventable.

“There are steps and practices we can take to ensure the health our workmates and ourselves, and that’s something the conference aimed to achieve.”

The Queensland District BOM will consider hosting another Global Conference in 2027 with the objective of broadening topics to include any other relevant OHS matters.

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