Earlier this month, OSHA issued a final rule regarding allowable beryllium exposure levels for workers. The rule will reduce the eight-hour permissible exposure limit from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. The rule requires additional protections, including personal protective equipment, training, and medical exams.
Workers who inhale airborne beryllium in the workplace can develop a lung condition called chronic beryllium disease or CBD. Occupational exposure to beryllium has also been linked to lung cancer. Beryllium is classified as a human carcinogen by the US Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Safety industry advocates agree that the final rule couldn’t come soon enough.
“Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure,” OSHA administrator David Michaels said in a press release. “OSHA’s new standard is based on a strong foundation of science and consensus on the need for action, including peer-reviewed scientific evidence, a model standard developed by industry and labor, current consensus standards and extensive public outreach. The new limits will reduce exposures and protect the lives and lungs of thousands of beryllium-exposed workers.”
OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will prevent 96 premature deaths each year and prevent 50 new cases of CBD per year, once the full effects of the rule are realized.
DATES TO KNOW:
- The final rule becomes effective on March 10, 2017. Employers will then have 1 year (March 12, 2018) to comply with most of the requirements.
At Gallaway Safety, we know the first step to try to reduce exposure to hazards is by correcting engineering controls. However, the next protective step would be the use of respirators. Generally, air-purifying respirators with a 100-series filter or a powered air-purifying respirator equipped with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters would be effective.
PPE also helps prevent skin contact with beryllium. In jobs with a risk of contact with beryllium-containing powders, workers should wear gloves and long-sleeved protective clothing.