Can mineworkers, construction workers, stonemasons or individuals working in high dust exposure working environments make a notification in the Notifiable Dust Lung Disease (NDLD) register in Queensland? What is the accepted procedure for making a notification in the NDLD register? Is my general practitioner able to make a notification in the NDLD register in Queensland? Given below are the accepted conditions for making a notification in the NDLD register in Queensland;

  • Patients, their family members or their general practitioner are NOT required to notify Queensland Health of a diagnosis of a NDLD.
  • ONLY prescribed medical practitioners with occupational and environmental medicine or respiratory and sleep medicine specialties are the ones required to notify the NDLD register.  
  • The prescribed medical practitioner completes the Notification of a diagnosis of NDLD 6 page form 
  • Either a pre-approved Queensland Health email account or secure file transfer email account can be used to submit a notification with options to also use a secured locked fax or registered post to the Health Protection Branch.  

Following amendments to the Public Health Act of 2005 and the Public Health Regulation of 2018 the list of occupational dust diseases to be recorded was increased which has been key providing a legislative framework and implementation guide to the NDLD register. The NDLD register commenced its operations on the 1st of July 2019 enabling the Queensland Health to monitor and analyze the incidence of NDLD as a result of inorganic dust such as silica, coal, asbestos, natural stone, tungsten, cobalt, aluminium and beryllium. Queensland Health according to the Act, may also request information about notifications of the NDLD from other state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy and the Office of Industrial Relations. Respiratory diseases resulting from occupational exposure to inorganic dust include; cancer (mesothelioma), chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease (bronchitis and emphysema), and pneumoconiosis including asbestosis, coal workers pneumoconiosis (black lung), mixed dust pneumoconiosis and silicosis. The article seeks to evaluate inventory and tracking tools to report dust exposure in Queensland following the resurgence and re-identification of coal mine workers pneumoconiosis in the past few years. 

The failure in coal mining

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

The effects of failure in the coal mine workers screening program in Queensland has been dubbed as one of the most appalling consequences of complacency in health risk monitoring which led to assumptions that black lung disease was no longer a threat. Chest radiographs and spirometry were underperformed and challenges in the administration driven processes as well as obsolete processes enabled cases to increase without an early detection system picking up the scourge. As dust is not only limited to coal, a consultation feedback to the National Dust Diseases Taskforce has even brought to fore another grim picture in the manufactured stone industry which has been hit by an increasing number of silicosis cases in Australia. Just as a rule of thumb there is never a safe level of exposure to crystalline silica and exposure levels need to be at their lowest possible. 

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Globally, it is important to factor in the differences in standard workplace 8-hour shift exposure limits for Australia (0.05 to 0.1 mg/m3) relative to USA (0.025 mg/m3). Clearly for the USA, exposure limits 4 times less than the current Australian limits which raises concern over much needed revisions in standards which as of 2019 it has been suggested it will take about 3 years to occur. But why so long, given what is at stake, the argument for delay is based on the need for the business community to adjust their systems and processes to ensure compliance the timeline to reform is just too long and at the detriment of workers and their families. 

Capturing and Using Data

In an industry, big or small data collection is critical to the success of the past and present implementation of reforms. In fact, data is valuable and critical tool to determine matters of life or death. It is non-negotiable to have systems that collate data and its processing done to determine actionable recommendations that drive a safety and health system. Most of the failures in the determination of the extent of dust diseases can be attributed to failures in the data collection system which creates loopholes and dysfunctional communication in tracking trends. Mandatory health checks at a State level are not as uniform and unilateral as one would expect instead they differ which creates non-alignment in the possibility of central data collection and hence it is difficult to determine what is effective and which reforms are required immediately across the country. The diversity of laws, rules and guidelines related to the prevention of dust diseases in the workplace create opportunities for gaps in the current protection for workers. There is definitely a need for a more proactive stances from all the states as Queensland has set an example however it should not be because of spikes in cases of dust diseases but rather as a matter of stringent regulations to save lives. In the interest of privacy, information collected by the NDLD register is handled according to the Information Privacy Act of 2009 therefore personal information will not be disclosed to any third parties without their consent unless the disclosure is authorized or required by law. 

Dust Control – not just Data Capture!

Given the rise in numbers of these dust related diseases, dust control has become non-negotiable. It has become a necessity and very much in coherence with Queensland state efforts to complement efforts to reduce the number of cases of dust related diseases in the future. Imperative is to consider the effective chemical dust palliatives that either make water work or reduce the amount of water to be used but without neglecting the fact that of the available products their performance varies depending on the nature of fugitive dust particles to be suppressed. A very good example of a typical scenario would be in the coal mining industry, where coal is by nature hydrophobic and repels the effects of water in its dust suppression owing to its hydrophilicity. Use of water in coal dust suppressions is strictly about surface interactions which is particle size dependent hence the finest particles have a tendency to deflect off sprayed water therefore GRT: Activate UG super activates water. Chemically, the role of the surface-active agents enables water to immediately coat airborne particles, forcing them to drop out of suspension in the air. 

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Engineered Solutions

From the workplace to the prescribed medical practitioner submitting a notification on the NDLD the common denominator is a worker. Their health and wellbeing are at stake and in most cases the livelihood of their families if they are incapacitated to continue with work. Effective inventory and tracking tools eliminate assumptions but create substantial basis for generating trends and populating data which is useful for prompt decision making. NDLD register is a very good starting point to populate data which is going to be used to lobby for more strict dust limits backed by factual insights on the state of the current affairs. The next critical step is using this information to drive change in managing dust and aiming to eliminate the exposure of staff to dust by working, engineered solutions.

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REFERENCES 

About the notifiable dust lung disease register retrieved 19/09/20

Information for patients retrieved 19/09/20  

Making a notification retrieved 19/09/20

New lung disease register invites industry to report dust exposure retrieved 19/09/20

The Lancet. 2018. Black lung is still a threat. 6. 1-2. 

Walsh, J. 2019. Submission in Response to the National Dust Diseases Taskforce Consultation Paper. Maurice Blackburn Lawyers: Asbestos & Dust Diseases Practice. 1-15.