On May 11, OSHA began enforcing a new beryllium standard in the workplace that the government estimates could save the lives of 94 workers annually.
What is Beryllium?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal that is used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical and defense industries. However, it is highly toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into the workplace air that can then be inhaled by workers, potentially damaging their lungs.”
Beryllium-related diseases can occur whenever the substance is manufactured or processed, such as abrasive blasting in construction projects. Exposure can lead to lung cancer and other diseases.
What is OSHA’s new Beryllium Standard?
Recent scientific studies have shown that even low-level exposure to beryllium can cause serious lung disease. OSHA’s new beryllium standard revises previous permissible exposure limits, which were based on studies several decades old.
OSHA’s final rule on beryllium reduces the eight-hour permissible exposure limit from 2 to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. If beryllium levels rise above that threshold, employers must take steps to reduce its airborne concentration.
The new OSHA regulation also requires additional worker protections, including personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training.
Who does it Affect?
The new beryllium standard will protect about 62,000 workers, including those who work in foundry and smelting operations, fabricating, machining, grinding beryllium metal and alloys, beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing and dental lab work.
How is it Enforced?
Employers have three years to put into practice all the measures of the new regulation. However, they have only one year to bring beryllium exposure limits within new legal boundaries. Compliance is expected to cost employers as much as $74 million nationwide. But, it could decrease medical and death-related expenses by more than $560 million a year.
Enforcement of the new beryllium standard began on May 11, but full compliance will not be required immediately. If you have any additional questions about how this new regulation may affect you, visit OSHA.gov.