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Black lung disease is preventable

Are you at risk of developing a dust-related lung disease? Your risk is directly linked to your total level of exposure to dust.

Thanks to our rigorous system of regulation and compliance in NSW, your risk of developing a dust disease is low.

Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis (CWP)

CWP is commonly known as ‘black lung disease’. The disease gets its name because affected lungs appear to be black in colour rather than pink.

Causes:

  • CWP is caused by prolonged exposure to respirable coal dust.
  • The gradual accumulation of coal dust particles within the fine air passages of the lungs cause layers of coal dust, how much dust was in the air and how long you have been exposed to it.

Symptoms:

CWP may take several years to develop (sometimes 20 to 30 years).

Simple CWP

  • Usually no symptoms
  • Chronic cough
  • Little or no shortness of breath

Complicated CWP (Progressive Massive Fibrosis)

  • Shortness of breath
  • Black sputum (mucus)
  • Lung dysfunction
  • Chronic cough
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Heart problems

Treatment:

There is no specific treatment for black lung disease and there is no cure. Most treatments are aimed at limiting further damage to the lung, managing symptoms and improving quality of life. For Simple CWP, avoiding exposure to harmful dust may stabilise the disease.

Silicosis

Silicosis is a lung disease similar to coal workers pneumoconiosis in that it causes scarring to the lungs.

Causes:

  • Silicosis is caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica or quartz dust.
  • Respirable crystalline silica can cause fibrous or scar tissue to form in the lungs (silica induced pneumoconiosis) that reduces the lung’s ability to extract oxygen from the air.
  • Respirable crystalline silica is more likely to be harmful to your health than respirable coal dust. It is also now recognised as a carcinogen.

Symptoms:

Silicosis usually takes several years to develop. There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Silicosis makes you more susceptible to infectious diseases if the lungs and it is thought to play a role in the onset of lung cancer.

  • shortness of breath following physical exertion
  • severe cough
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • chest pains
  • fever
  • cyanosis (bluish skin)

Treatment:

Early detection is vital as silicosis cannot be cured. Its progression can be slowed if exposure to respirable crystalline silica is avoided, especially at an early stage of the disease.

What can you do?
  • minimise your exposure to airborne dust
  • be aware of dust sources in your workplace
  • attend your periodic health assessment every three years
  • maintain adequate ventilation and sprays
  • avoid operating downwind of dust sources if possible
  • wear respiratory PPE correctly
  • get a chest x-ray when advised (every six years for underground or ‘at risk’ open cut miners).