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There have been some recent changes made to the regulations in Queensland governing coal mine worker safety and health. These changes were introduced to ensure improved detection of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.

Since these changes, the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME) continues to refine its standards for these health assessments. This includes placing a greater focus on spirometry testing and chest x-ray imaging.

For those working in the industry, we’ve put together a cheat sheet with all the information you need to know.

What is the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme?

The Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme (Coal Board Medical) was developed to ensure the health of Queensland coal mine workers. The scheme includes mandatory medical testing of coal miners prior to employment and ongoing monitoring throughout their employment.

Mandatory requirements

All coal mine workers must undergo a health assessment prior to employment. This assessment must include the following tests:

  • Respiratory function (spirometry)
  • Audiometry
  • Vision
  • Urinalysis
  • Auditory canal examination
  • Cardiovascular system examination
  • Musculoskeletal system examination
  • Abdomen examination
  • Skin examination
  • Medical history questionnaire
  • Chest X-Ray examination to ILO standard

Note: A drug and alcohol test is not a mandatory requirement of the medical. However, many mine sites will require the employee to have one prior to them being able to access the site. If the employee requires an instant drug and alcohol test, you will need to request this.

Obtaining the results

Once the assessment has been completed, a Nominated Medical Adviser (NMA) will review the results and complete a section 4.

Not all medical practitioners can provide this report as they must have completed additional training under the scheme.

The section 4 report of the Coal Board Medical is the only information an employer is privy to. The actual results of the medical (e.g. audiometry results) are not able to be supplied to the employer, due to confidentiality.

If this information is required, you’ll need to request a pre-employment medical as well. The results from this medical can be released to the employer once the employee has signed a consent form.

The medical results and information contained within the Coal Board Medical are submitted to the DNRME. The confidentiality of the information contained within the medical is protected by law and can only be released to the worker.

When does a Queensland Coal Board Medical expire?

A Queensland Coal Board Medical is valid for five years, unless a further review date has been listed. If a review date is on the section 4, the employee must undertake their medical review prior to expiry.

As part of the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme, employers must ensure that medicals are completed for every new employee. Each worker must also be retested at least once every five years.

If a coal mine worker changes employers, a new coal board medical is required.

Why am I required to undergo a chest x-ray?

Pneumoconiosis is a series of diseases caused by the inhalation of organic or inorganic dusts or chemical irritants. Typically, the disease occurs from exposure to these irritants over a prolonged period of time.

The type and severity of the disease depends on the composition of the dust. Small quantities of some substances produce severe reactions, while milder irritants produce symptoms of lung disease only with significant excessive exposure.

Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP), or black lung, is a chronic occupational lung disease caused by long-term inhalation of coal dust.

CWP causes inflammation of the alveoli, tiny sacs in the lungs that allow oxygen and carbon dioxide through the bloodstream. Inflammation of the alveoli will eventually result in irreversible damage to the lungs.

CWP ranges in severity from simple to advanced; the most severe form is progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). Advanced CWP is debilitating and often fatal.

Detection and monitoring for CWP requires specialist radiology assessments in the form of chest x-rays.

What is an ILO chest x-ray and b-reader report?

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is an agency appointed by the United Nations to oversee labour standards and rights. Based in the United States, the ILO has been responsible for publishing chest x-ray classification guidelines for pneumoconiosis since 1950. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide a means to describe and codify abnormalities consistent with pneumoconiosis.

In 1974, health surveillance programs for coal miners revealed unacceptable degrees of variability and quality issues in chest x-ray reporting. This variability led to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop the B reader program. The program aimed to train and certify radiographers in the ILO classification. Since then, only certified physicians are able to provide a final determination on a chest x-ray screening for pneumoconiosis. The final determination takes into account any characteristics of occupational lung disease which can otherwise be confused for similar conditions. This similarity in abnormalities requires a certified B reader to be able to distinguish and diagnose the correct disease.

In Australia, CWP was thought to be eradicated until a retired miner from Queensland was diagnosed in 2015. Due to this incident, the Queensland Government mandated sending coal worker chest x-rays to NIOSH for a B read. In early 2017, the first Australian B readers were certified. Subsequently, as of 1 March 2019, all ILO chest x-rays remain in Australia for reporting purposes. They are sent to a company of qualified radiographers called Lungscreen.

Periodic monitoring with KINNECT

An employee must undergo a new Coal Board Medical and chest x-ray every five years.

KINNECT keeps track of this for you in our custom-built online health surveillance portal – Carelever. When the employee approaches their medical expiration date, you will be automatically notified. A new coal board medical health assessment can then be scheduled through KINNECT’s extensive network of clinics.

This means you’ll never miss these mandatory medicals, ensuring your workers stay safe and your legislative obligations are consistently met. KINNECT eliminates any complicated tracking processes needing to be in place on your end.

The requirements of this process can be confusing, but KINNECT can help you navigate through. We take the administrative and organisational component of this process off your hands.

Our turnkey solution for employers of coal miners ensures you’re efficiently meeting your legislative obligations.

Contact us to learn more and get started.


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