OSHA finalizes beryllium exposure rule

Dive Brief:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Friday that it has finalized its new beryllium exposure rule.
  • In this latest regulation, OSHA has further limited contact with beryllium’s cancer-causing dust from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period — a standard established in 1949 — to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. The new rule also requires protective measures and equipment, as well as changing rooms and showers for at-risk employees.
  • OSHA included the construction and shipyard industries in its final rule after excluding them from its initial proposal in 2015, according to The Hill. 

Dive Insight:

Employers have been given three years to put into operation all of the protective aspects of the regulation. They have one year to bring exposure limits within the new boundaries, two years to furnish changing rooms and showers and three years to enact engineering controls. OSHA said compliance will cost employers approximately $74 million a year but that medical and death-related expenses will drop more than $560 million a year. OSHA estimated that the new limits will protect approximately 62,000 workers, preventing 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease and 94 associated deaths each year.

According to the Chicago Tribune, previous pushback against beryllium exposure reform did not come from the usual suspects like industry trade associations but from the nation's defense community who feared restrictive beryllium rules would limit the metal’s supply. Beryllium is an important element in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, however, those seeking to protect workers from exposure, including the beryllium industry itself, eventually won out.

Beryllium-related diseases can occur whenever the substance is subjected to manufacturing or processing — like abrasive blasting used in construction — and often presents as lung cancer, requiring those affected to use oxygen tanks to breathe. 

This new rule is similar to the protections put in place for those workers exposed to silica dust. OSHA issued an updated silica rule in March 2016, significantly reducing permitted exposure with the aim of decreasing cases of silicosis in workers. The regulation also requires that companies record worker exposure to silica and provide certain levels of medical monitoring.

The construction industry tried to block the silica rule from taking effect, arguing that implementation would cost billions of dollars and projecting that the new regulation would result in 33,000 full-time workers losing their jobs. However, OSHA prevailed in this instance, and the rule went into effect in June 2016.

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Filed Under: Legal/Regulation
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