OSHA Tightens Beryllium Exposure Rule

A rule at a time, the Obama Administration is making sure it gets its priorities in the regulation books before it leaves office in 12 days.

Latest case in point,  the government’s rule to further protect workers in a variety of industries who are exposed to toxic beryllium levels.

Workers in the aerospace, electronics and other industries won’t have to breathe in as much beryllium, a highly toxic substance, thanks to the final rule issued on Friday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical and defense industries. 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 be then inhaled by workers, potentially damaging their lungs.

Recent scientific evidence shows that low-level exposures to beryllium can cause serious lung disease. The new rule revises previous beryllium permissible exposure limits, which were based on decades-old studies.

Once in full effect, the OSHA, the rule will annually save the lives of 94 workers from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease. Workers in foundry and smelting operations, fabricating, machining, grinding beryllium metal and alloys, beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing and dental lab work represent the majority of those at risk.

Beryllium exposure is also a concern in other industries. Employees handling fly ash residue from the coal-burning process in coal-fired power plants risk beryllium exposure. In the construction and shipyard industries, abrasive blasters and their helpers may be exposed to beryllium from the use of slag blasting abrasives. Work done in these operations may cause high dust levels and significant beryllium exposures despite the low beryllium content.

To give employers sufficient time to meet the requirements and put proper protections in place, the rule provides staggered compliance dates. 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. Employers are also required to implement the engineering controls beginning three years after the effective date of the standards.

The first compliance date under the rule is March 12, 2018.

The final rule is available at the Federal Register here.

Here’s some background on the rule from a post I wrote last year on it.

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