A long-awaited rule to limit workers’ exposure to beryllium — a substance known to cause cancer — has been finalized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Beryllium is a is a strong, lightweight metal used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical and defense industries. When ground, sanded or cut, the metal’s dust can cause an incurable, and often fatal, lung disease — Chronic Beryllium Disease.
In a release, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) stated that recent scientific evidence shows low-level exposures to beryllium can cause serious lung disease. The new standard is 10 times stronger than the old one which was established in the 1940s and will apply to 62,000 workers.
“Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr.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.”
The final rule reduces the permissible exposure limit from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period. Anything over that level, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium.
The rule also establishes a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air over a 15-minute sampling period.
Once the new requirements are in full effect, OSHA estimates the change will save the lives of 94 workers annually from beryllium-related diseases as well as prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease.
Compliance dates will be staggered in order to give employers enough time to meet the requirements and put proper protections in place. Once the rule is effective, employers will have one year to implement most of the standard’s provisions.