Heart of Australia head of operations Ewan Wylie spoke to Quarry about the importance of health surveillance for quarry and mining workers.
Heart of Australia is a mobile medical program delivering specialist services to rural and remote communities in Queensland.
Its latest truck to be launched, Heart 5, was on display at the recent IQA Quarrying & Mining Safety & Health Conference in Townsville, Qld where Heart of Australia head of operations Ewan Wylie presented the truck’s healthcare capabilities and CT scanning technology.
Heart of Australia was founded by cardiologist Dr Rolf Gomes in 2014 with the launch of Heart 1 – a mobile health clinic.
“Heart of Australia’s mission is to reduce the burden of distance when it comes to healthcare services for those in these communities,” Heart of Australia head of operations Ewan Wylie told Quarry.
“Heart of Australia aims to reduce the inequality of accessible specialist services and improve patient outcomes for those living in rural and remote communities.”
According to Wylie, Heart of Australia’s fleet has now expanded to five mobile health clinics, and it delivers specialist services to 33 communities across Queensland.
We have seen over 13,000 patients and saved over 500 lives, he added.
Health risks within mining and quarrying
Wylie explained that “mining and quarrying activities have many associated health risks such as human interactions with large plant and equipment, noise, vibration, heat, uneven and wet ground, and dust to name a few.
“Most of the hazards on a mine or quarry site pose an immediate safety risk, but for dust, the consequences of excessive exposure are unlikely to be evident until many years after the exposure/s occurred.”
Therefore, it is important to monitor respiratory health consistently and identify hazards before they cause harm.
“Respiratory health surveillance is extremely important for mine and quarry workers as we need to diagnose as early as possible those affected by respiratory hazards in the workplace so that any further harm can be minimised,” Wylie said.
“Early detection has been proven to improve health outcomes,” he noted.
“It is also important that we identify when workplace controls may have failed or been ineffective and caused disease so that we can fix those processes to protect workers and ensure no others are affected,” Wylie continued.
“It is important that we continue to learn from safety incidents and improve workplace hazard controls until we no longer have any preventable workplace injuries.”
Heart of Australia
To ensure the health of those working in mining and quarrying, Heart of Australia launched its newest mobile clinic Heart 5 in February 2022.
It is a joint initiative with the Queensland Government to provide increased accessibility to lung checks for current and former mine and quarry workers in rural and remote Queensland.
“Heart 5, our latest mobile health clinic, was funded by Resource Safety Health Queensland (RSHQ) to support the screening and early identification of mine dust lung diseases (MDLD),” Wylie said.
He explained that “given the resource industry in Queensland typically operates in rural and remote areas, Heart of Australia was excited by the opportunity to expand the services we were already delivering.
“We wanted to build a mobile service that would not only improve accessibility to high quality screening services, but also the equipment and specialists needed to investigate abnormal results in a timely manner.”
The mobile medical imaging clinic includes X-ray and CT scanner equipment to assist in the screening and early detection of mine dust lung diseases, such as black lung and silicosis.
“Heart 5 has been set up as a “one-stop-shop” and is able to deliver chest x-rays, spirometry and physical examinations but is also able to complete the further investigations of HRCT, laboratory lung function and respiratory specialist consults typically needed to confirm or exclude a diagnosis of MDLD,” Wylie explained.
“The truck is a RSHQ approved spirometry and radiology clinic, and the service is operated by RSHQ approved doctors.
“Additionally, to the standard examination, we are also able to provide audiometry, visual acuity, bloods and urinalysis, stress tests and functional assessments through the truck.”
By providing workers with access to health care on-site, Heart 5 minimises the travel and time off work required to complete respiratory health surveillance.
“The battery technology we have designed and built in Queensland to power the CT scanner means with Heart 5, we can do a CT parked on a mine site – and that is a world first,” Heart of Australia founder Dr Rolf Gomes said in a press release.
“Heart 5 breaks down the barriers of distance, so if you do have a lung disease, we can find it early and quickly,” he added.
Heart 5 also features the world’s first battery powered CT Scanner, meaning that diagnostics can happen in an efficient and timely manner if required.
“By being a one-stop-shop, we are able to complete all the required investigations in one appointment,” Wylie said.
“As well as an efficient examination process, our patient management system helps sites manage on-boarding their workforce data as well as meet reporting obligations,” he continued.
“Our programs meet all privacy and confidentiality requirements for managing workers health data and are designed to enable learnings from the data we collect so that we can support safer workplaces today and into the future.”
Since its launch, Heart 5 has “travelled over 22,000kms and delivered over 950 respiratory health examinations for coal and mineral mine workers, silica exposed workers, and former mine and quarry workers,” Wylie said.
“Heart 5 has screened former/retired mine and quarry workers in Gladstone, Biloela, Rockhampton, Mackay, Collinsville, Moranbah, Cairns, and Mount Isa,” he added.
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