Beryllium exposure is a serious health risk to workers that can cause long-term health problems or death. The dangers are great enough that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently adopted new standards in early 2017 that lowered the permissible exposure limit for both long-term and short-term levels of beryllium. Unfortunately, the families of employees exposed to this harmful substance are also in danger of developing diseases from indirect contact with it.
Which Workers Are Most in Danger Beryllium Exposure?
Beryllium is a grey metal stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum that is used to make metals stronger and lighter. In addition, beryllium-copper alloys are used because of their thermal conductivity and corrosion resistance. Beryllium oxide is useful in making ceramics for electronics. These workers are most at risk of harmful levels of exposure:
- Beryllium production workers
- Foundry workers
- Machine operators and machinists
- Metal fabricators
- Dental technicians
- Workers in secondary smelting and refining
- Abrasive blasters using certain types of coal and copper slags
Beryllium—or a compound containing it—is found in a wide range of products, some of which are used by consumers. They include products found in the following industries:
- Plastic molding
- Aircraft parts
- Sporting goods
What Are the Health Risks of Beryllium Exposure?
Workers can be in danger from inhalation of airborne beryllium, skin contact with it, and exposure to its dust, fumes, mist, or solutions. Their families are in jeopardy from the second-hand contact with it either in their vehicles or through the contaminated clothes that the employee wears home from work. These diseases are caused by beryllium:
- Chronic Beryllium Disease. This is the most common health problem experienced and results when a worker becomes sensitive to beryllium. It can cause fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, difficulty breathing, weakness, and a persistent dry cough. In more serious cases, it can cause heart enlargement and heart disease. Sometimes the symptoms do not appear until long after the hazardous exposure. Chronic beryllium disease is not curable, but it is treatable. However, it can be fatal, especially if the worker does not get treatment.
- Cancer. Beryllium and beryllium components are carcinogens—agents known to cause cancer. Exposure to this toxic metal can cause lung cancer—and sometimes death.
- Skin rashes and ulcers. Rashes, ulcers, or bumps under the skin can develop when cuts and scrapes come in contact with beryllium.
- Acute Beryllium Disease. The symptoms of this disease resemble pneumonia and are caused by high levels of exposure over a short period of time. Because exposure limits are now lower than in the past, development of this disease is rare.
How Workers’ Compensation Can Help If You Develop an Illness Due to Beryllium Exposure
You may need long-term medical care and be off work for extended periods of time while recovering from your illness. At some stage in your disease, you could become permanently disabled. You could be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation laws. These benefits can pay for your expensive medical treatments and reimburse you for your lost wages. If a loved one died due to one of these occupational diseases, you may be entitled to death benefits.
Because illnesses from beryllium develop over time and sometimes years after you may have been exposed to this metal, you may have a more difficult time convincing your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier that you are entitled to benefits. It becomes more challenging to show that it was work-related. That is why you need an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can investigate your claim and obtain the evidence that can show the causal connection between your illness and your job.
Manfred Ricciardelli has been helping workers obtain the workers’ compensation benefits they deserve for over 20 years. He understands how important these benefits are when you are injured on the job, especially when you suffer serious consequences, such as from beryllium. Call our office or start an online chat today to schedule your free consultation to learn about how Mr. Ricciardelli can help you.