Tuesday, 17 May 2016

MonCOEH’s Sim interim review released

In late 2015, the Queensland Government’s Department of Natural Resources and Mines engaged the Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health (MonCOEH) to conduct an independent review of the respiratory component of the Coal Mine Workers' Health Scheme.

As of May 2016, seven confirmed cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) had been identified among coal miners in Queensland. Some of these cases may not have been directly detected within the existing coal mine workers’ health scheme and these cases are the first time the condition has been diagnosed in Australia in 30 years. Pneumoconiosis is a chronic, irreversible occupational lung disease caused by the long-term inhalation of coal dust into the lungs.

Professor Malcolm Sim, an occupational physician and epidemiologist and Director of MonCOEH, was appointed to review the existing health screening system in Queensland for coal mine workers after cases of black lung disease, or pneumoconiosis, re-emerged recently.

MonCOEH’s review team also includes Associate Professor Deborah Glass, Dr Ryan Hoy and Dr Mina Roberts. The team will examine the Coal Mine Workers' Health Scheme, which was set up to ensure miners have their health checked periodically, as well as going over miners' chest x-rays for signs of black lung disease.

Professor Sim presented the interim findings to a reference group of union, industry, medical and government representatives in mid-April and the team is due to provide the final report mid-year.

It has been dubbed the 'Sim review' and the early interim findings, which included a list of preliminary recommendations, provided some early advice to the Minister on the direction of the review.

Some of the recommendations include that the purposes of the respiratory component of the health assessment scheme should be more clearly stated as being able to provide systematic respiratory health monitoring in coal miners.

“In general, there was a lack of documentation about follow-up or referral for any abnormal spirometry or chest x-ray results, the majority of which were considered to be suggestive of chronic obstructive airway disease, rather than coal mine dust lung disease.

“Where obstructive ventilatory patterns were observed in the spirometry results, the abnormalities were attributed to tobacco smoking,” Professor Sim said.

“There is a box on the forms for what’s called the ‘Similar Exposure Group’, the classification SEG, and a lot of the time that’s not filled in properly. So it really gives the people doing these medicals and x-rays little information about the type of exposure that people are having," he said.

Another key recommendation from the interim report was that a core group of nominated medical advisors (NMA) should be established who are skilled and experienced at detecting coal mine dust lung disease.

An overview of the interim findings is available online, and the final report will be delivered mid-year.

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