Thursday, August 6, 2015

OSHA Proposal Would Lower Beryllium Levels

Photo courtesy Materion
OSHA is proposing a new standard that would lower workplace exposure to beryllium, a widely used material that can cause lung diseases. The current 8-hour PEL for beryllium is 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Above that level, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. The proposal would reduce the PEL to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. It would also require additional protections, including PPE, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training.

Beryllium is an essential component of nuclear weapons. Most current worker exposures occur in operations such as foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics and composites manufacturing and dental lab work.

OSHA estimates that the rule could prevent almost 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses each year. Workers who inhale beryllium particles can develop a debilitating, incurable illness known as chronic beryllium disease, and are also at increased risk of lung cancer. Dangers arise when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, mist or other forms.

The current PEL was originally established in 1948 and adopted by OSHA in 1971. According to the agency, while the 1971 limit reduced fatalities due to acute beryllium disease, it became clear over time that exposure below that limit also had damaging long-term health effects. Materion, the nation’s primary beryllium product manufacturer, and United Steelworkers, the union representing many of those who work with beryllium, jointly approached OSHA in 2012 to suggest a stronger standard.

“We’re pleased that industry has been such a strong voice in advocating for a more rigorous standard," says Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. OSHA Administrator David Michaels adds, “This collaboration of industry and labor presents a historic opportunity to protect the lives and lungs of thousands of beryllium-exposed workers.”

The proposed rule will be published Aug. 7, 2015, in the Federal Register. Comments must be submitted by Nov. 5, 2015. Additional information on the proposed rule can be found here.