Dust diseases caused by exposure to airborne contaminants can kill or cause serious long-term health complications for workers. Pneumoconiosis and silicosis are just two preventable dust diseases that require appropriate dust controls, atmospheric monitoring and worker health monitoring.

NSW has a comprehensive regulatory scheme in place under the Resources Regulator and Coal Services, with specific mining health and safety legislation.

The NSW Mine Safety Advisory Council leads a long-standing tripartite approach to health and safety issues across all sectors in the mining industry.

The NSW work health and safety framework consists of the most rigorous coal dust exposure limits in Australia, including legislated requirements for minimum standards of ventilation, monitoring of airborne contaminants in the workplace, and prescribed worker health monitoring regimes for exposure to airborne dust.

The NSW Government has supported more stringent exposure standards for respirable dust, agreeing to Safe Work Australia’s recommendation to reduce respirable coal dust from 2.5 to 1.5 mg/m3 and respirable crystalline silica from 0.1 to 0.05mg/m3. NSW also supports additional research on whether further reductions are achievable.

Coal mine workers receive a medical assessment before beginning employment, health surveillance every three years, and are offered free ongoing medical assessments after they leave the industry.

NSW’s coal sector also has The Standing Committee on Airborne Contaminants and Occupational Hygiene (known as the Standing Dust Committee).

Mines must report respirable coal dust exceeding 2.5 mg/m3 of air breathed and respirable crystalline silica dust exceeding 0.1 mg/m3 of air breathed to the Resources Regulator. All exceedance reports are reviewed by the Resources Regulator, and where appropriate, investigations undertaken to ensure remedial actions have been implemented.

During 2018-19, 68 targeted mine assessments and inspections were carried out as part of a major compliance campaign to ensure appropriate dust control measures are in place to minimise exposure risks to workers. This program commenced in 2016 and is ongoing.

Inspection and mandatory testing show most NSW underground coal mines have maintained exposure levels to well below the prescribed limits.

Guidance has also been developed to assist mine operators to implement health control plans and manage and control risks associated with dust and airborne contaminants.

Any worker, current or retired, who has concerns about their respiratory health should contact their nearest Coal Services office or consult their doctor.

There have been a number of recent identified cases of coal worker pneumoconiosis and simple silicosis in the NSW mining industry which has kept this issue an ongoing focus for the Regulator. The table below lists all notifications of dust disease received by the Regulator.

Date notified to the Regulator Dust disease The worker Work historyStatus
12 September 2019 Pneumoconiosis (unconfirmed) Male, early 40s. Still employed in industry. Worked in underground metal mine for past nine years. Not known to have worked in any other jurisdictions or high-risk industries Under investigation
11 October 2019 Coal dust pneumoconiosis Male, early 60s. Still employed in industry. Largely employed in Queensland open cut mines for over 40 years, before moving to NSW open cut mine in recent years. Under investigation
1 October 2019 Mixed dust pneumoconiosis

Male, early 40s. Still employed in industry.

Ten years in NSW south coast mines before spending the last few years in the tunnelling industry and only recently returned to the coal mining industry. Following an investigation, the Regulator formed the view that as a legacy matter it would be unable to determine the origin, cause and circumstances of the illness. Matter closed. See our Investigation Information Release.
1 November 2018 Mixed dust pneumoconiosis

Male, mid 70s. Retired from industry in early 2000s.

Extensive work history in coal mining, spanning more than 50 years, including substantial periods in UK, Queensland and NSW. Following preliminary inquiries, the Regulator formed the view that as a legacy matter it would be unable to determine the origin, cause and circumstances of the illness. Matter closed.
17 August 2018 Mixed dust pneumoconiosis

Male, late 80s. Retired from industry in 1980s.

Employed in the NSW coal industry in various open cut mines for about 40 years.

Following an investigation, the Regulator formed the view that as a legacy matter it would be unable to determine the origin, cause and circumstances of the illness. Matter closed.
19 Dec 2016 Mixed dust pneumoconiosis

Male, early 50s. Retired from industry in 2014.

Employed in the NSW open cut coal industry for more than 30 years.

Investigation found that the worker had a spontaneous form of lung disease known as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, not mixed dust pneumoconiosis as first diagnosed.

Further, no evidence was found that the worker was exposed to hazardous levels of atmospheric contaminant at any of his workplaces. Therefore, based on the available information and in the absence of further medical evidence, the Regulator does not consider the worker’s death to be workplace-related. See our investigation report for more information

21 December 2017 Mixed dust pneumoconiosis Male, late 50s. Still employed in industry.

Employed in the NSW coal industry for about 40 years.

Following an investigation, the Regulator formed the view that as a legacy matter it would be unable to determine the origin, cause and circumstances of the illness. Matter closed. See our investigation report for more information.
21 December 2017

Silicosis

Male, early 40s.

Employed in the coal industry in NSW, interstate and overseas, as well as tunnelling industry. Following preliminary inquiries, the Regulator was informed that the worker did not wish to participate in an investigation. Matter closed.