Global standards needed to protect mineworkers from deadly dust diseases

Published: 27 Feb 2020

Mining is a multinational industry and companies must be held to the highest standards when it comes to dust exposure for workers, participants at a global conference on occupational dust diseases on the Gold Coast has heard.

“Companies like Rio Tinto, BHP and Anglo operate across borders,” said CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland President Stephen Smyth.

“Dust like coal and silica have the same effect on workers’ lungs wherever they are, but these companies don’t take it upon themselves to implement best practice across their operations – rather they fall back to the lowest standards they can get away with.

“Coal dust has the same effect on mineworkers’ lungs whether they are in Australia, the United States, Indonesia, Pakistan or Russia. Why shouldn’t the same dust exposure standards be in place?”

The Cut the Dust conference hosted by the CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland District at the Gold Coast this week has heard from medical professionals, mineworkers, union representatives and government regulators from around Australia and the world. Participants heard about the latest medical research into diseases including silicosis and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, case studies of disease in the workforce, government regulation of mine dust and the fight for justice and compensation for victims.

The conference, which started Tuesday and wrapped up today, resolved to support a dedicated global campaign to fight for prevention and treatment of dust related lung disease.

“The conference believes it is imperative that union members and their allies from countries around the world share health and safety information and best practices so that global unions may fight to stop the scourge of dust diseases and protect workers health and safety,” said a resolution endorsed by participants.

“We have shared an incredible amount of information this week,” said Mr Smyth. “A clear theme from the conference this week is that mineworkers only win improvements in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of deadly dust disease by fighting. History shows that if we take our eyes off the ball, protections are wound back.

“This inaugural Cut the Dust global conference, which will be repeated every two years, is about making sure we never take our eyes off the ball again.”