The Yale Global Health Justice Partnership just released an impressive policy paper on occupational lung disease in South Africa. The paper provides an interesting comparative overview of how different countries handle lung diseases affecting miners.
A summary of the paper is on the Yale Law School website.
The paper focuses on gold miners’ problems with silicosis and tuberculosis rather than on black lung. This is unfortunate because South Africa is a major coal producer and at least one study found that 7.3% of South African coal miners had coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.
However even for those of us who are primarily interested in black lung, the report provides a valuable comparative analysis which looks at how ten countries (including the United States) handle occupational lung diseases and compensate disabled miners.
The variation among countries is very interesting. In Germany, disabled miners are compensated under the country’s general social security system (which provides 2/3 of the previous year’s earnings), although miners are eligible for benefits five years earlier than the rest of the population. In the Australian state of New South Wales, an entity called the Dust Diseases Board handles most disabled miners, but does not cover coal miners (who are covered under a specific insurance scheme) because the coal industry opposed inclusion in the Dust Diseases Board system when it was created in 1942.
In comparing these systems you can see the influence that American coal miners had on the black lung benefits system in the United States. American coal miners have a specialized system that was built for them and that attempts to spread the costs of black lung within the coal industry. This is not to say that the American system is perfect. For example, disabled coal miners would be much better off with the German system’s provision of 2/3 of the miner’s previous salary rather than the American system’s monthly benefit amount of $938.30 for a married miner, an amount which leaves disabled miners and their spouses below the federal poverty level.
The students who worked on this paper did an excellent job. Hopefully their work will lead to reforms in South Africa that will help miners there.