OSHA has finalized its proposal to lower the permissible exposure levels to a material that can cause devastating lung disease. The new standard would dramatically lower workplace exposure limits in place since 1948.
OSHA’s eight-hour permissible exposure limit for beryllium is now 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) of air. The agency’s proposed standard would reduce the exposure limit to 0.2 ug/m3 and require additional protections for workers, including:
- personal protective equipment
- medical exams
- medical surveillance, and
The 2.0 ug/m3 standard was originally established by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948. OSHA adopted the limit in 1971 but first proposed lowering it in 1975.
The existing limit has significantly reduce deaths due to acute beryllium disease, according to OSHA. But the agency says over time, exposure below the current limit was found to also cause damaging long-term health effects.
OSHA predicts the new, lower limit will prevent almost 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses a year. Workers who inhale beryllium can develop an incurable illness, chronic beryllium disease, and are at an increased risk of lung cancer.
Most of current worker exposure to beryllium occurs in foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics, composites manufacturing, and dental lab work.
OSHA says its proposal results from a unique partnership with industry. The primary beryllium product manufacturer in the U.S., Materion, and the United Steelworkers approached OSHA in 2012 to suggest a stronger standard.
OSHA administrator David Michaels calls the collaboration among Materion, the union and OSHA “historic.”
Washington insiders had predicted that a change to the beryllium standard was one regulatory revision OSHA would accomplish before the end of the Obama administration in January 2017.
Michaels says enacting new beryllium and silica standards are two of his top priorities for the next two years.