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Dust diseases

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.

Standards for respirable dust

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 dust

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).

Respirable silica

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

Reporting requirements

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.

Targeted mine assessments for dust exposure

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.

Dust disease toolkit

The Take Action to Prevent Dust Disease toolkit is designed to provide mine workers and mine operators with information, advice and guidance related to managing dust. The member organisations of the Mine Safety Advisory Council have combined resources to create this dust toolkit, which is designed to provide mine workers and mine operators with information, advice and guidance related to managing dust.

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.

Black lung disease poster 1
Deborah Yates Black lung disease poster 1
Gavin Burns black lung disease   2
George Souris Black lung disease

Completed investigations 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 completed investigations of dust disease specified in schedule 1 of the Workers’ Compensation (Dust Diseases) Act 1942 received by the Resources Regulator.

Table of completed investigations of dust disease


Regulator notified: 6 May 2021
Dust disease: Probable Simple Silicosis - Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis
Worker: Male, late 40s Still employed as an Open Cut - Coal Surveyor. The worker has undertaken work in the NSW coal industry as a surveyor since 2008. The worker conducted work surveying coal stockpiles manually on foot (a practice no longer undertaken).
Status: The investigation identified that there is a low probability of sarcoidosis or other interstitial lung diseases. The worker has no symptoms and normal lung function. The worker's condition is not expected to worsen provided they work in a low dust environment.
It is not possible to determine the exposure location due to the numerous work locations the worker frequented. It is suspected the exposure was a result of working in and around coal stockpiles on foot. Matter closed.
Regulator notified: 6 May 2021
Dust disease: Category 1 - Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis
Worker: Male, early 60s, coal miner, boilermaker, machine operator. The worker has worked in the underground coal and steel making industry for about 33 years.
Status: The investigation identified that the worker is at retirement age and has been instructed to refrain from working in dusty environments. The worker is currently asymptomatic.
The Regulator formed the view that the worker was exposed to airborne dusts at several mines and coking operations during his career, as such it would be unable to determine the origin, cause and circumstances of the illness. Matter closed.
Regulator notified: 22 February 2021
Dust disease: Presumptive - Chronic Simple Silicosis
Worker: Male, 60s. Various roles across metal and coal operations, including operator and supervisory roles. The worker has had a long and varied career across gold, lead, zinc, copper, iron ore, and coal operations. The worker has worked in multiple jurisdictions above and below ground including overseas.​​​​​​​
Status: The worker has been advised that he can return to work but to stay out of dusty environments. The investigation identified that the worker's injuries are cumulative.
The Regulator formed the view that the worker was exposed to airborne dusts at several operations during his career, as such it would be unable to determine the origin, cause and circumstances of the illness. Matter closed.
Regulator notified: 24 November 2020
Dust disease: Silicosis
Worker: Male Late 40’s.
Worked predominantly in tunnelling (Sydney and Brisbane region) and mining as an operator and supervisor. The worker has spent most of his career as a machine operator in the tunnelling industry. This work has involved tunnelling through Sydney and Brisbane sandstone. Silica is a major component of these sandstone structures.​​​​​​​
Status: The worker is asymptomatic but has CT evidence of mild silicosis (ILO score 1/1). Lung Function is normal, he is fit to work but must follow harm minimization measures. The worker should wear at least a P2 cartridge respirator. The worker spent a considerable amount of their career tunnelling Sydney and Brisbane sandstone.
Based on the available evidence it would be fair to assume that there is a high likelihood that his exposure has arisen from his time in this industry. This is outside the jurisdiction of the NSW Resources Regulator. Matter closed

Regulator notified: 14 May 2020
Dust disease: Simple silicosis
Worker: Male, late 30s. Worked in underground tunnelling in NSW and Queensland, mines in Western Australia, and currently working in coal mines in NSW.
Status: Following an investigation, the Regulator formed the view that the worker's condition was not caused by exposure to silica containing airborne dusts at coal mining workplaces in NSW. Matter closed.
Investigation report (PDF, 668.88 KB)


Regulator notified: 7 May 2020
Dust disease: Interstitial lung disease (unconfirmed)
Worker: Male, early 50s. Still employed in the industry. Worked in various coal mines in NSW since the late 1990s​​​​​​.
Status: Following an investigation, the Regulator formed the view that the worker had been exposed to airborne dusts at a number of mines and construction sites, as such it would be unable to determine the origin, cause and circumstances of the illness. Matter closed.
Investigation report (PDF, 845.4 KB)


Regulator notified: 12 September 2019
Dust disease: Pneumoconiosis (unconfirmed)
Worker: Male, early 40s. Still employed in the industry. Worked in an underground metal mine for the past nine years. Not known to have worked in any other jurisdictions or high-risk industries.
Status: Following an investigation, the Regulator formed the view that it would be unable to determine the origin, cause, and circumstances of the worker's condition. Matter closed.
Investigation report (PDF, 554.64 KB)


Regulator notified: 11 October 2019
Dust disease: Coal dust pneumoconiosis
Worker: Male, early 60s. Still employed in the industry. Largely employed in Queensland open cut mines for over 40 years, before moving to NSW open cut mine in recent years.
Status: 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.
Investigation Information Release. (PDF, 344.3 KB)


Regulator notified: 1 October 2019
Dust disease: Mixed dust pneumoconiosis
Worker: Male, early 40s. Still employed in the 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​​​​​​.
Status: 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.
Investigation Information Release (PDF, 232.67 KB).


Regulator notified: 1 November 2018
Dust disease: Diffuse dust fibrosis (Originally diagnosed as mixed dust pneumoconiosis)
Worker: 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
Status: 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. The updated medical assessment determined the worker has diffuse dust fibrosis, not mixed dust pneumoconiosis as first diagnosed.
Matter closed.


Regulator notified: 17 August 2018
Dust disease: Mixed dust pneumoconiosis
Worker: Male, late 80s. Retired from industry in 1980s. Employed in the NSW coal industry in various open cut mines for about 40 years.
Status: 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.


Regulator notified: 19 December 2016
Dust disease: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (Originally diagnosed as mixed dust pneumoconiosis)
Worker: Male, early 50s. Retired from industry in 2014. Employed in the NSW open cut coal industry for more than 30 years.
Status: 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.
Investigation report (PDF, 2.68 MB)


Regulator notified: 21 December 2017
Dust disease: Mixed dust pneumoconiosis
Worker: Male, late 50s. Still employed in industry. Employed in the NSW coal industry for about 40 years.​​​​
Status: 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.
Investigation report (PDF, 196.99 KB)


Regulator notified: 21 December 2017
Dust disease: Silicosis
Worker: Male, early 40s. Employed in the coal industry in NSW, interstate and overseas, as well as tunnelling industry
Status: Following preliminary inquiries, the Regulator was informed that the worker did not wish to participate in an investigation. Matter closed.

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