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).

The new respirable crystalline silica workplace exposure standard of 0.05mg/m3 took effect in NSW from 1 July 2020.

Mines must report respirable coal dust exceeding 2.5 mg/m3 of air breathed and respirable crystalline silica dust exceeding 0.05 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.

The new respirable coal dust workplace exposure standard of 1.5mg/m3 will take effect in NSW from 1 February 2021. Mines and petroleum sites will need to report exceedances of the new exposure standard to the NSW Resources Regulator from 1 February 2021.

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.

NSW has the most stringent dust exposure standards in Australia. A new exposure standard for respirable coal dust to 1.5mg/mwill be introduced from 1 February 2021. Further reduction of the exposure standard will ensure NSW continues to have the strongest regime for protecting workers’ health and safety.

Black Lung Disease: An Ongoing Focus in NSW

Supporting this change, this campaign is designed to educate workers and mine operators of the risks associated with respirable coal dust.

Notifications of dust disease

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 Resources Regulator. The table below lists all notifications of dust disease specified in schedule 1 of the Workers’ Compensation (Dust Diseases) Act 1942 received by the Resources Regulator.