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22.4.4 Navy Personnel Use of 'Jason Pistols' - Beryllium


Between 1950 and 1985 machines known as 'Jason Pistols' were used on HMAS Supply and HMAS Melbourne to scour paint and rust from the ships' superstructure. Other vessels and bases may also have used Jason Pistols. From time to time the Jason Pistols may have included a compound that included Beryllium which was emitted as a dust when the pistols were in use. When inhaled in dust form Beryllium may caused pneumonia-like symptoms similar to asbestosis. The condition is known as Berylliosis.


Under s7(1) where a person suffers from a disease caused by beryllium and it is confirmed that they were exposed to beryllium, for example, by using Jason Pistols while serving in the RAN, then liability for compensation for the disease will be accepted.


If a delegate is intending to accept a claim for beryllium exposure as a result of service in the Navy, the relevant check-box in Defcare should be selected. As with all other conditions to be accepted under s7(1) clarification from Defence through SAM is required to confirm possible or likely exposure to Beryllium. Some Navy medical records have been stamped indicating possible exposure to Beryllium as a result of using these tools, however not all records are stamped. The presence of a stamp on the medical records can be taken as evidence of possible exposure. Where there is no such stamp normal investigation procedures (i.e. an official response from Defence on possible exposure and other relevant evidence) should be followed.


A specialist's opinion will also be required to determine if the condition claimed is indeed a condition caused by exposure to Beryllium. If the claimant does not have a treating specialist, delegates should refer the claimant to a Respiratory or Occupational Physician or an Immunologist in the first instance. If the results are normal, then no further investigation is necessary. If the results are abnormal then the assessor should follow any further suggestions made by the medical practitioner that are considered necessary to obtain an accurate diagnosis.


In cases where the abnormal results indicate the likelihood of a beryllium related disease, and only on the recommendation of an appropriate qualified medical specialist, additional specialist laboratory immunology tests may be required. This may necessitate obtaining a specialised blood test that is not currently commercially available in Australia. It is known as the Beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Test (BeLPT). It requires fresh whole blood that is not more than 36 hours. The overseas tests take about one week to undertake, and are expensive. The logistics of getting fresh whole blood to an overseas accredited laboratory within 36 hours are problematic.


It should be noted that urine beryllium tests are only useful for detecting very recent exposure and that the specialist blood test (BeLPT) only shows a “sensitisation” due to exposure to beryllium. This “sensitisation” is a marker of possible progression to the development of the severe lung disease (Berylliosis) but is not by itself a disease.


Where beryllium exposure is confirmed and a disease which is characteristic of such exposure is diagnosed then under subsection 7(1) the claimant's employment can be taken to be a material contribution to contracting the disease and liability can be accepted.