Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis: An Australian perspective
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Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) is an untreatable but preventable lung disease arising from chronic inhalation of coal dust. Recent reports of CWP in Queensland, along with international data, suggest that there is a resurgence in pneumoconiosis. The prevalence of CWP varies considerably between countries. In Australia, there is no mandatory reporting system and no national data on the prevalence of CWP. The symptoms and manifestations of CWP vary depending on the composition of the inhaled dust, duration of exposure, stage of disease and host-related factors. CWP may develop into progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), which can be fatal. Radiological assessment should be performed according to evidence-based standards using the ILO (International Labour Office) International Classification of Radiographs of Pneumoconioses. As preventing exposure to coal dust prevents CWP, it is important to implement and enforce appropriate standards limiting exposure. In Australia, these standards currently vary between states and are not in keeping with international understanding of the levels of coal dust that cause disease. Longitudinal screening programs are crucial for monitoring the health of coal workers to identify individuals with early-stage disease and prevent progression from mild disease to PMF. We recommend: standardisation of coal dust exposure limits, with harmonisation to international regulations; implementation of a national screening program for at-risk workers, with use of standardised questionnaires, imaging and lung function testing; development of appropriate training materials to assist general practitioners in identifying pneumoconiosis; and a system of mandatory reporting of CWP to a centralised occupational lung disease register.
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