OSHA has released a new final rule that aims to greatly lower workplace exposure to beryllium, a strategically important material that can cause devastating lung diseases. The new standards on beryllium for general industry, construction, and shipyards will require employers to take additional, practical measures to protect an estimated 62,000 workers from these serious risks.
Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal most commonly used in aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical and defense industries. Despite being effective in practice, it's highly toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into the workplace air to be inhaled by workers, potentially damaging their lungs. Scientific studies show that exposure to even a low-level of beryllium can cause serious lung disease and other health problems. The new rule revises previous beryllium permissible exposure limits, which were based on decades-old studies.
When put into practice, the final rule will reduce the eight-hour permissible exposure limit from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. At any rate above that level, employers must immeditely make plans to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. It also requires that employees and building occupants be equipped with personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training. OSHA estimates that the rule when in effect will annually save the lives of 94 workers from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease.
To learn more about the final rule, available at the Federal Register, please click here.