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Clogged air conditioning systems contributed to the poor health of a mobile plant operator at the Maules Creek coal mine in New South Wales.

The operator has been diagnosed with a lung disease after working in the mining and non-mining sectors for more than 35 years.

During his career he operated mobile plant equipped with enclosed cabins and air conditioning systems.

These air conditioning units had often become clogged and stopped working, according to the New South Wales Resources Regulator.

The worker was also involved in mine construction and the extraction of coal from 1997 to 2013.

“He never wore a dust mask in this period and was never asked to wear one,” the regulator stated.

“At (some work locations), he operated equipment with poorly maintained seals and ineffective or non-operational air conditioning units.”

Prior to the diagnosis, the worker suffered from a rapid heart rate caused by breathing difficulties, after which he was diagnosed with contracted pulmonary fibrosis (due to scarring of the lung) and emphysema (shortness of breath).

The resources regulator said coal and silica dust exposure contributed to his condition.

The regulator advised mine operators to review and verify the adequacy of their hazard management plan for airborne contaminants, including the hierarchy of controls, mine ventilation and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Workers must utilise the lower order control of wearing respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to complement higher order controls in the workplace,” the regulator stated.

“Existing and former mine workers are encouraged to attend periodic health screening and to contact their medical practitioner if they have any concerns about their respiratory health.”

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