All over the world, the coal mining industry is one of the most hazardous industries. Due to the nature of the operations involved in coal mining, workers in this industry are prone to developing certain medical conditions.
To reduce the likelihood of developing these medical conditions, persons suffering from certain infections like epilepsy, claustrophobia, obstructive lung diseases, etc are excluded from mining employment.
So, in Australia (and of course in most countries), employers of coal mine workers are required to carry out coal board medical for every employee working in Australia’s mining industry. This is the health assessment of each person employed or planned to be employed, as a coal mine worker.
The essence of the coal board medicals is to know if a person is fit enough to work in the coal mining industry, to keep track of the health conditions of the workers, and to quickly know when any worker has developed any medical illness from the job.
Having noted these, before discussing this health assessment, we’ll take you through the various health hazards of working as a coal mine worker.
Health Hazards of Coal Mining Industry
Workers in the mining industry are susceptible to developing certain diseases and illnesses, which include:
- Diseases of the lung such as Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Pneumoconiosis is a serious respiratory illness caused by lengthy exposure to coal dust.
- Inflammatory infections of knee, hand elbow.
- Infective jaundice caused by rats in mine.
- Coal miners are also exposed to crystalline silica dust and this causes pneumoconiosis, lung infections, and other diseases.
- Dermatitis results from exposure to dust and contacts with objects.
- Skin rashes and boils due to sweat in an atmosphere with little air penetration and high wet-bulb temperature.
Coal Board Medicals
As rehashed earlier, employers must do the coal board medicals for every coal mine worker, or an intending worker. This duty is required by law in Australia. A coal board medical, akin to other health assessments, is to examine the various health conditions of the worker.
The medical is done to both prospective and current employees. For a prospective coal mine worker, the coal board medical is to ascertain whether the person is fit to work as a coal mine worker.
For people already in employment, the medicals are important to maintain consistent medical records of the workers. The Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme mandates employers to ensure health assessment of employers.
The Tests Involved In a Coal Board Medical
There are various tests carried out in a typical coal board medical. These assessments include:
Respiratory examination including spirometry.
This test is used to examine the structure and organs in the chest. It helps the medical personnel to know how perfectly the lung and heart are working.
Coal mining exposes workers to harmful particles in the air, and also to dust which can cause lung diseases. However, mine dust lung diseases take longer (up to ten years) to develop or even show signs.
So, early detection of the disease is very important to curb it from escalating. This is where chest x-rays come in handy. Chest x-ray reviewed by specialist radiologists helps to ensure that the coal miners receive an early diagnosis for any lung or throat disease. The x-ray is to be done in line with International Labour Organization (ILO) standard.
Respiratory Examination Including Spirometry
This is a common test used to discover conditions or illnesses that prevent the lung from functioning properly.
After smoking, exposure to substances like coal mine dust is one of the commonest causes of respiratory problems. So, it is imperative to always check out mine workers for this disease. This underlines the importance of spirometry.
To take a spirometry test, the mineworker will forcefully breathe into a small machine called a “spirometer”.
Skin testing is another test involved in the coal board medicals for coal miners in Australia (as well as many other countries).
Coal miners are very susceptible to having dermatological issues because of the frequent exposure to dust and different objects.
Other factors that may cause skin problems for coal miners include the high wet-bulb temperature, handling of wet cement when sinking shafts, etc. So, there is the need to always conduct skin tests for current and intending coal miners.
Cardiovascular system examination
Coal miners are inclined to develop cardiovascular disorders. So, there is a need to always examine all systems essential to detect cardinal disorders, as well as non-cardiac disorders that may affect the heart.
The different cardiovascular system examinations carried out on coal miners include the heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, breathing rate, temperature, weight, etc.
Musculoskeletal system examination
Due to the nature of the coal mining job, coal miners are at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders. This makes it necessary to always conduct musculoskeletal system examinations on coal mine workers.
This test evaluates the range of motion and evaluates the body’s structure and components such as the muscles, bones, joints, tissues, etc.
Other tests involved in co-board medical are abdomen examination, urinalysis, and complete medical and work history.
Do note that there can also be health assessments of retired and former coal miners.
Who Bears The Cost Of The Health Assessments of Coal Miners?
Based on Australian regulations, it is simply the employers that shoulder the cost of health assessment of coal miners.
In the same vein, there must be an employer ready to do the coal board medical. A prospective employer cannot, on his own, execute a coal board medical without involving the company.
As we’ve discussed so far, not everyone is fit to work in the coal mining industry because of the peculiar nature of the industry. So, before employing a person as a coal miner, there are tests always carried out on such a person to ascertain his fitness. Ditto for existing workers in which periodic health assessments are always done to keep track of the workers’ health conditions.