The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a final rule “to prevent chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer” in workers by limiting their exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds. Beryllium and beryllium compounds are used in the aerospace, shipyard, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical, and defense industries.
The rule reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over eight hours. It establishes a new short-term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period.
Under the rule, employers must:
- use engineering and work practice controls (such as ventilation or enclosure) to limit worker exposure to beryllium;
- perform exposure monitoring for employees who are or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to airborne beryllium;
- provide respirators when controls cannot adequately limit exposure to below the PEL;
- limit worker access to high-exposure areas;
- post warning signs at regulated areas;
- label each bag and container of clothing, equipment, and materials contaminated with beryllium;
- develop a written exposure control plan; and
- train workers on beryllium hazards.
In addition, the OSHA rule requires employers to make available medical examinations to monitor exposed workers when workers are reasonably expected to be exposed at or above the action level for more than 30 days per year. The rule also provides medical removal protection benefits to workers identified with a beryllium-related disease.
The rule contains standards for general industry, construction, and shipyards. OSHA estimated that the rule will save 94 lives from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease each year, once the impact of the rule is completely realized. It estimates that the rule will provide net benefits of about $560.9 million annually.
The agency said about 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium in their workplaces, including about 11,500 construction and shipyard workers who may conduct abrasive blasting operations using slags that contain trace amounts of beryllium.
According to OSHA, the majority of workers affected by this rule are exposed in general industry operations, such as beryllium metal and ceramic production, non-ferrous foundries, and fabrication of beryllium alloy products.
OSHA said the final rule replaces a 40-year-old permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium that was outdated and did not adequately protect worker health.
Jackson Lewis attorneys can provide guidance on complying with this and other federal safety programs.
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