A new federal rule aimed at protecting workers in a number of manufacturing industries aims to dramatically reduce workplace exposure to beryllium, a strong, lightweight metal that can cause fatal lung cancer and other serious lung disease.
Beryllium is a crucial to a number of industries, including aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunications, medical, defense, construction, and ship building. The federal government’s new beryllium standards, announced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Jan.6, require employers to take additional, practical measures to protect workers from beryllium exposures.
A number of manufacturing processes create highly toxic beryllium dust, fume, and mist, which are easily inhaled when released in the air. According to government estimates, the new standards will protect some 62,000 U.S. workers from beryllium exposures.
OSHA says the new standards are based on decades-old studies and recent scientific evidence showing that even very low-level exposures to beryllium can trigger serious lung disease.
The final rule reduces the eight-hour maximum exposure limit from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. The short-term exposure limit is set at 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period. Any activity resulting in a release of beryllium above those levels requires employers to take additional steps to reduce the airborne concentrations.
Additional protections required by OSHA’s new rule include personal protective equipment, medical exams, and other medical surveillance and training.
The rule provides staggered compliance dates designed to give employers a generous timeline to meet the requirements and put proper protections in place. Once the rule is effective, employers have one year to implement most of the standard’s provisions. Employers must provide the required change rooms and showers beginning two years after the effective date, and implement engineering controls beginning three years after the effective date of the standards.
“Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “OSHA’s new standard is based on a strong foundation of science and consensus on the need for action, including peer-reviewed scientific evidence, a model standard developed by industry and labor, current consensus standards and extensive public outreach. The new limits will reduce exposures and protect the lives and lungs of thousands of beryllium-exposed workers.”