A new rule issued by OSHA lowers the allowed levels of a chemical that can cause devastating lung diseases.
The final beryllium rule reduces the eight-hour permissible exposure limit from the previous 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) to 0.2 µg/m³. The rule also establishes a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 µg/m³ over a 15-minute sampling period. The previous exposure limit goes back 40 years.
OSHA has issued three separate sets of rules for general industry, construction and shipyards.
The chemical is highly toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne dust, fumes or mist which can damage the lungs.
Recent scientific evidence shows workers who inhale even low levels of airborne beryllium can develop a lung condition called chronic beryllium disease. Occupational exposure to beryllium has also been linked the lung cancer. Beryllium is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
At air levels above the eight-hour PEL, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. The rule also requires additional protections, including personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training.
OSHA estimates the rule will save the lives of 94 workers and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease each year.
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 the estimated 62,000 U.S. workers at risk of exposure.
To give companies enough time to meet the new rule’s requirements, the regulations come with staggered compliance dates. The rule will take effect 60 days after its publication date (Jan. 9, 2017) in the Federal Register. Then employers will have one year from the effective date to implement most of the standard’s provisions. Some exceptions: Change room and shower requirements begin two years after the effective date; engineering control requirements begin three years after the effective date.