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OSHA releases final rule updating decades-old beryllium exposure limits

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Beryllium

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Washington – OSHA has issued a final rule lowering occupational exposure limits for beryllium. The standards apply to general industry, construction and shipyards.

Beryllium, a lightweight metal, is used in various industries, including electronics and energy. It is highly toxic when released into the air where workers can inhale it, and can result in lung damage, including a condition called chronic beryllium disease. Even low-level exposures can cause serious health problems, OSHA states.

Workers exposed to beryllium under OSHA’s previous permissible exposure limits “face a significant risk of material impairment to their health,” according to the rule, which was published in the Jan. 9 Federal Register and will be effective 60 days after publication.

Under the final rule, the 8-hour PEL decreases to 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air from the previous limit of 2.0 micrograms. The rule also sets a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air over a sampling period of 15 minutes.

The previous PELs were “based on decades-old studies,” OSHA stated in a Jan. 6 press release. In addition, the rule sets requirements for use of personal protective equipment, medical exams, training and other protections.

Employers will have one year to comply with most of the provisions in the standard. The requirement for employers to provide change rooms and showers begins two years after the effective date, and the obligation for implementing engineering controls starts three years after the effective date.

OSHA claims the rule will annually save the lives of 94 workers from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases.

“Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure,” OSHA administrator David Michaels said in a press release.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.”

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