After 45 years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) new standards for beryllium exposure went into effect for the construction industry on May 11, 2018. OSHA reduced the amount of allowable airborne particles of beryllium workers are exposed to.
Read the information below written by an OSHA attorney to get a better understanding of beryllium.
What is Beryllium?
Beryllium is a lightweight, gray metal element that is extremely good at conducting heat and electricity. It is often alloyed with copper due to its corrosion resistance and hardness. Beryllium oxide is mixed in ceramics and used in wiring materials. It is also found in metal slag used in construction for abrasive blasting. Blasting can cause an excess of airborne particles.
Beryllium has been classified as a human carcinogen by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The new standards reduce the permissible exposure limit, or PEL, for beryllium, averaged over eight hours, to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The previous PEL was ten times higher.
Respirators are utilized to help improve worker safety but cannot be relied upon in all cases. Proper ventilation is crucial to worker safety and OSHA compliance. There are more resources for new standards on the OSHA website.
Workers’ Health Risks
Too much exposure to beryllium can have adverse effects on the health of your workers. Usually, exposure to beryllium comes from directly touching alloys or inhaling airborne particles. Inhaling airborne particles of beryllium can lead to pneumonia and other pulmonary diseases.
Some workers can become sensitized to the element after skin contact or inhalation. That means when they come in contact with the particles, their immune system reacts. With too much exposure a worker can contract chronic beryllium disease (CBD), causing fatigue, shortness of breath and night sweats. Beryllium exposure can also lead to lung cancer, but CBD is more common.
If your workers are exposed to beryllium by abrasive blasting or component handling, make sure you are compliant with the new standards.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.