Latest figures from Coal Services’ Order 42 compliance monitoring of airborne dust show that respirable dust exceedances reduced by more than 50 per cent in the twelve months to 31 December 2016.
In 2016, Coal Services conducted 2,310 personal respirable dust samples across the NSW coal industry, including underground, open cut and coal handling preparation plants. The monitoring found only seven exceedances, compared to 27 exceedances in 2015. Exceedances for respirable crystalline silica and inhalable dust were also down considerably. The average exposure level remains well beneath the occupational exposure limit which is a credit to the NSW industry.
Mark Shepherd, Coal Services Occupational Hygiene and Compliance Manager, said that these results could be attributed to many factors. Mine sites have been asking for more education and this is driving smart choices at the coal face. The re-identification of Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis in Queensland and an isolated case in NSW has seen the control of airborne dust prioritised across all sites. The commitment to make longwall face automation work has also resulted in improvements in operator positioning; particularly during bi-directional extraction.
‘At Coal Services we use every exceedance to drive discussions with mine management and support operations to improve their dust control strategies. We take the time to educate workers one-on-one, advising them on suppression techniques and appropriate respirator selection. There has been a strong demand for our compliance assistance services, where we undertake specialised non-statutory dust monitoring and share best practice solutions such as where to stand to minimise exposure. If we can help workers to make informed choices about dust, then we are helping to make a difference,’ he said.
‘Our approach is very much focused on prevention. We accompany the work crew underground to conduct the dust sampling. This enables us to observe work methods and the dust control strategies that are in place. We can then report on more than just the sampling results. Our independent observations, including contributing factors to any dust level exceedance, are shared with industry to drive improvement.’
However; Mr Shepherd stressed that although the 2016 monitoring found only seven respirable exceedances, compared to 27 exceedances in 2015, this year there had already been five respirable exceedances in January alone. Any exceedance is a cause for concern and said that it highlights that the hard work undertaken by industry to minimise airborne dust-related health risks must continue. Complacency remains the enemy in the fight against lung disease that is 100% preventable.
The 2017 NSW Minerals Council Health, Safety, Environment and Community (HSEC) Conference will feature a Dust Stream including presentations by Thoracic Physician, Associate Professor Deborah Yates; Deputy Chief of Inspectors, Garvin Burns; and Standing Dust Committee Chairman, Matthew Fellowes. An industry stakeholder panel discussion will also take place ‘Airborne Dust: Working Together to Meet the Challenges’.