This paper was compiled to give guidance on the assessment, evaluation and control of occupational exposure to respirable coal dust (RCD), with an emphasis on recommending a health-based guidance occupational exposure value.
This position paper is prepared at a time when there is uncertainty about workplace exposures in the Australian coal mining industry. “Black lung” was believed to have been eliminated some time ago. Australia since 1948 has had a long history of reducing the incidence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by way of controlling exposure to respirable coal dust (RCD) and medical surveillance of the workforce. However, more than 20 cases of low grade or ‘simple’ and in some instances ‘mixed dust’ CWP have been identified in Queensland since 2015, while 1 case was identified in NSW in early 2017 (NSW Resource Regulator, 2017). Along with an apparent resurgence of CWP in other countries, including the USA, this has raised questions about the protective effect of current occupational exposure limits (OELs), the degree of compliance with those OELs and the adequacy of health surveillance monitoring.