New rules and safety standards have been developed to protect workers from beryllium exposure in their workplaces. Beryllium is a metal that is found in a variety of sources, such as coal. Beryllium is often used in the aircraft, shipyard and communication industries.
Beryllium can be a dangerous and potent element. Since it is sometimes used to manufacture nuclear weapons, it should come as no surprise that it can be highly toxic. It is more typically used to manufacture machine parts and satellites, so people in many different industries are at risk of being exposed to it. It is classified as a Class A carcinogen.
Class A carcinogens are pollutants with sufficient evidence that indicates they are cancer-causing. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified beryllium as meeting the qualifications for being a Class A carcinogen, because there is data that proves it has caused lung cancer and other damaging diseases in workers who have been exposed.
Beryllium has been documented as causing chronic beryllium disease (CBD), or Berylliosis. A person gets CBD by inhaling fumes or dust that contains beryllium or beryllium compounds. The disease then scars lung tissue and creates an allergic-type lung response that causes inflammation. The disease is chronic and progressive. The symptoms of CBD are fatigue, loss of appetite, joint pain, fever, cough, weakness and difficulty breathing or a shortness of breath.
Because it is a cancer-causing element, beryllium exposure also contributes to the development of lung cancer. It has been verified as causing lung cancer in workers who are exposed to it, with it being the most often reported cancer type to be contracted due to exposure. Lung cancer is often accompanied by a chronic, worsening cough, chest pain, hoarseness, coughing up blood, feeling tired or weak and a shortness of breath.
As a result of the serious damages and lethal consequences that beryllium and beryllium compound can create, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a rule to inhibit exposure rates. There are at least 46 new cases of CBD annually. Additionally, there are nearly 100 annual cases of other beryllium-related diseases, including incidences of lung cancer.
OSHA’s goal is to help keep workers safe and to limit their chances of developing dangerous and fatal diseases that can be prevented. OSHA’s rule pertains to the construction and shipyard industry as well as the general industry. The rule will take effect on March 21 of this year.
There are many provisions in the rule. The rule sets a standard for exposure rates, known as permissible exposure limits. It also pertains to time periods for exposure, which are referred to as short-term exposure limits. For example, a worker can only be exposed to a certain amount of beryllium or beryllium-compound over an eight-hour period.
The rule targets the legal responsibilities of employers as well. Employers must have enclosed spaces or adequate ventilation and also provide respirators to workers. Employee training must be implemented, and employers are required to provide medical exams if workers are concerned about exposure. To view OSHA’s comprehensive rule, please click here.
OSHA revised and updated its beryllium and beryllium compound exposure rule because the last version in place was not up-to-date and did not fully protect workers against the risks of CBD and lung cancer. This amended rule will work to limit beryllium exposure, therefore helping to protect and save the lives of workers across the country.
If you or a loved one has been exposed to beryllium, and you have questions about your legal rights, please call one of the experienced Philadelphia product liability lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP at 1-800-222-8792 to schedule an appointment, or complete our online contact form.