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Black Lung - Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis

Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis (CWP) also known as ‘black lung’ is a disease resulting from breathing in dust from coal, graphite or man-made carbon over a period of years.


Black lung occurs when these substances sit in the lungs and progressively build up over time. The risk of getting this disease depends on the amount of time you are exposed to these substances. Most people diagnosed are over 50-years of age and although smoking does not increase the risk, it can worsen the dusts’ affect on the lungs.

Forms of Black Lung

The disease can appear in two forms, simple and complicated/progressive massive fibrosis:

  1. **Simple coal worker’s pneumoconiosis – **This is black lung in its early form. This is when nodules appear where the dust has aggravated. This version of the disease can be found in people living in cities with poor air quality, not just in coal workers.
  2. **Progressive massive fibrosis or complicated coal worker’s pneumoconiosis – **This occurs when the simple version of the disease progresses due to continued exposure to the dust. Large masses of dense fibrosis sit in the lungs leading to limited lung function. Some sufferers can also develop autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.

In the United States alone, $44 billion has been paid to sufferers by the government, including affected workers and the widows of those who have passed away due to the condition.

In Australia, the death rate associated with black lung has decreased since the early 1950s. In the last 10 years, only one in 100,000 people have died from the disease due to modern technology detecting the disease early. However, in December 2015, Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham confirmed that there have been four new cases of the disease in the state.

Black Lung Symptoms

Black lung can lead to inflammation, fibrosis and death. Symptoms include:

Simple coal worker’s pneumoconiosis

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough (with increased risk of chronic bronchitis)

Progressive massive fibrosis

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough
  • Black sputum
  • Lung dysfunction
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Heart problems
  • There is no specific treatment for either simple coal worker’s pneumoconiosis or complicated coal worker’s pneumoconiosis.

Other complications from the disease include chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cor pulmonale (failure to the right side of the heart) and respiratory failure.

Black Lung diagnosis

Black lung is diagnosed by a physical exam and listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. Chest x-ray’s and CT scan’s are also necessary if doctors notice any concerns. You may even be referred to a respiratory specialist for a lung function test.

Treatment for Black Lung

There aren’t any specific treatments for black lung. However, you should avoid any further exposure to the dust. By doing this, the condition should remain as the simple version, which rarely causes disability or death. If your black lung has progressed to the complicated form, your shortness of breath will worsen over time.

Precautions can be taken to reduce the chance of developing the condition and to reduce its effects. These include wearing a protective mask, avoiding smoking and taking regular breaks in fresh air.

Black Lung Compensation Lawyers

Workers who develop black lung in the workplace may be entitled to claim compensation for their injuries. Compensation can help improve the quality of life for those affected by making it easier for them to access the medical support they require.

Shine Lawyers have expert black lung compensation lawyers who act on a "No Win, No Fee" basis, and are available for an obligation-free consultation. If you have been in contact with asbestos, or have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma or asbestosis, register your details with Shine Lawyers' National Asbestos Register today to assist in any future compensation claims.

For more information on the legal process for bringing a compensation claim, watch our simple, step-by-step guide to compensation claims below.


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