Black lung victim pleads for change to mining industry

A retired miner suffering black lung has pleaded to a Senate inquiry for change in the industry to stop others younger than him from suffering a similar fate.

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Percy Verrall, aged in his early 70s, says he’s been in and out of hospital with bleeding lungs and can barely talk as a result of the disease after almost 30 years working in Queensland mines.

He told a hearing of the inquiry in Brisbane on Monday he wanted action to protect younger generations, saying he was never provided with masks when he started in the industry.

He’d heard of one young miner who was sacked on the spot for telling his employer he was suffering the disease.

“Some days I’m that bad, I can’t get out of the lounge chair,” Mr Verrall said.

“We never had masks supplied to us when I was underground. The white paper masks they give you now, they’re no good.

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“I don’t want to see any other young blokes in that condition – it’s got to be fixed up.”

The inquiry is investigating the re-emergence of black lung, a disease thought to have been eradicated in Australia decades ago.

Respiratory physician Ryan Hoy, from the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, said it was very likely the disease had been present all along, but not picked up.

“It is likely that the cases haven’t been detected because of issues with the actual screening process, not that the cases weren’t occurring,” he told the hearing.

The society’s Deborah Yates said Australia was underestimating the cancer-causing materials miners were being exposed to, calling for mandatory reporting of occupational lung disease cases to assess how big the problem is.

These diseases were “totally preventable” and should not be occurring in a modern society.

Former miner Ian Hiscock, who spent more than 10 years in the Bowen Basin, said spray systems to control dust were inadequate.

When he was first employed as a casual, there were times when basic safety equipment was not available and he had to ask other staff for masks.

“It’s terrible. I’ve resigned from the industry because I just couldn’t take any more.”

Mr Hiscock said he asked his employer to test him for black lung after three colleagues were diagnosed but “they wiped their hands of me”.

He ended up getting help from the union despite not being a member, because his local GP didn’t know where to start.

He said miners had no faith in the ability of Australian doctors to detect the disease, with tests being sent to the US.

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