Some New Jersey residents may be unfamiliar with beryllium. This metal has properties that make it useful to aerospace and electronics manufacturers, but it can cause serious health issues for workers when it is ground into dust and inhaled. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration set acceptable limits for beryllium exposure in 1971, but subsequent efforts to raise this limit have met with no success due to bureaucratic delays and opposition from the business community.
A new OSHA initiative to raise beryllium exposure limits was announced on Aug. 6, and the federal agency says that adopting the proposed new limit could save the lives of almost 100 workers every year and prevent a further 50 from becoming seriously ill. The revised exposure limit was decided upon after OSHA was approached by labor leaders with the United Steelworkers and representatives from the nation’s largest beryllium producer.
Research indicated that approximately 35,000 American workers are exposed to beryllium in the workplace, and those who inhale the dangerous dust can develop an incurable respiratory problem known as chronic beryllium disease. Workers who inhale the metal dust also have an increased chance of developing lung cancer. The proposed rule change would see the acceptable levels of airborne beryllium reduced to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air from 2.0 micrograms. The proposal would also restrict the amount of time workers could spend in areas with high concentrations of the metal.
New Jersey workers who are injured in an on-the-job accident, as well as those who become ill after being exposed to a toxic substance while on the job, may be eligible to apply for benefits under their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy. The state-mandated program is designed to assist workers financially while they are incapacitated, but the process is sometimes confusing and contentious. An attorney with workers’ compensation experience could assist injured workers with their applications and provide representation on their behalf should the claim be disputed or denied.