Jan. 6, 2017
US Department of Labor issues final rule to lower beryllium levels,
increase workplace protections to reduce health risks
WASHINGTON - A new rule issued today by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration dramatically lowers workplace exposure to beryllium, a strategically important material that can cause devastating lung diseases. The new beryllium standards for general industry, construction and shipyards will require employers to take additional, practical measures to protect an estimated 62,000 workers from these serious risks.
Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical and defense industries. However, it is highly toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into the workplace air that can be then inhaled by workers, potentially damaging their lungs.
Recent scientific evidence shows that low-level exposures to beryllium can cause serious lung disease. The new rule revises previous beryllium permissible exposure limits, which were based on decades-old studies.
"Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "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."
The final 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. Above that level, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. The rule requires additional protections, including personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training, as well. It also establishes a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period.
OSHA estimates that - once in full effect - the rule will annually save the lives of 94 workers from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease. 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 those at risk.
Beryllium exposure is also a concern in other industries. Employees handling fly ash residue from the coal-burning process in coal-fired power plants risk beryllium exposure. In the construction and shipyard industries, abrasive blasters and their helpers may be exposed to beryllium from the use of slag blasting abrasives. Work done in these operations may cause high dust levels and significant beryllium exposures despite the low beryllium content.
To give employers sufficient time to meet the requirements and put proper protections in place, the rule provides staggered compliance dates. Once the rule is effective, employers have one year to implement most of the standard's provisions. Employers must provide the required change rooms and showers beginning two years after the effective date. Employers are also required to implement the engineering controls beginning three years after the effective date of the standards.
The final rule is available today at the Federal Register here.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to assure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Have You Been Exposed to Beryllium in the Workplace?
Beryllium Exposure in the WorkplaceBeryllium is a rare metal that is mined and refined for industrial use. It is often combined with metals like aluminum, cobalt, copper, iron, and nickel in order to increase their hardness and resistance to corrosion. This metal is used in manufacturing and metal working in the form of beryllium ceramics, beryllium copper alloy, and beryllium oxide powder. Oftentimes, exposure occurs when dust or fumes are released by alloys, ceramics, metals, metal oxides, or salts that contain the substance. Workers in the following industries may be exposed to this toxic metal without realizing it.
- Aerospace Workers (Jet, Satellite, and Space Shuttle Components)
- Defense Industry
- Dental Products (Bridges, Crowns, and Dental Plates)
- Manufacturing (Automobile, Computer, Electronic, Phone, and X-Ray Components)
- Metal Workers (Alloys, Die Casting, and Metal Processing)
- Mining and Refining (Ore Extraction)
- Nuclear Energy (Heat Shields and Nuclear Reactors)
Signs and Symptoms of Beryllium DiseaseExposure to this metal can lead to a serious condition known as beryllium disease (berylliosis). Acute beryllium disease occurs when a person is exposed to large amounts of the metal in a short period of time. Chronic beryllium disease (CBD) occurs when a person is exposed to dangerous levels of the metal over a long period of time. This condition is caused by the inhalation of metal particles which causes swelling in the lungs. White blood cells attack the metal particles in the lungs but are unable to remove it from the body. This buildup of particles and white blood cells is called a granuloma. Symptoms of this condition include the following.
- Weight Loss
- Difficulty Breathing/Shortness of Breath
- Chest Pain
Compensation for Your Beryllium InjuriesPeople who have suffered beryllium disease and lung damage may be entitled to compensation. If your injuries are a result of workplace exposure then you may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Some people may be barred from receiving these benefits because their condition developed years after their exposure. Additionally, the federal government has established a program to compensate Department of Energy employees and government contractors who have suffered these types of injuries. However, you should talk to an attorney before you apply for these benefits because receiving workers’ compensation benefits or a lump sum payment under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 may bar you from bringing claims against your employer. This is important to consider because your losses may exceed the amount you would receive under these programs and you may be able to receive more compensation by filing a beryllium lawsuit. Additionally, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits if your injuries prevent you from working. An experienced beryllium lawyer will be able to give you the assistance you need to make the best decision in these matters.
Do You Need Legal Advice Concerning Your Beryllium Disease Injuries?If you or a loved one has suffered lung damage due to beryllium exposure, you should talk to an attorney about your rights. You may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, or other losses. We work with some of the more experienced beryllium lawyers, who handle these cases, and there are no legal fees unless you receive a settlement or award. Feel free to call us toll-free or submit an online contact form.
- (i) Cleveland Clinic Health Information.
- (ii) Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).