On August 7, 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a proposed rule in the federal register that would reduce exposure limits for occupational exposure to beryllium. Beryllium is a strong but lightweight metal (it is stronger than steel, but lighter than aluminum) used primarily in the aerospace and defense industries and is classified as a strategic and critical material by the U.S. Department of Defense. OSHA estimates that approximately 35,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 4,088 establishments in the United States.
Beryllium exposure is an occupational health concern because inhalation or contact with beryllium particles can cause an immune response that results in beryllium sensitization. Individuals with beryllium sensitization can develop a disease of the lungs called chronic beryllium disease (CBD) if they inhale airborne beryllium after becoming sensitized. OSHA states that beryllium exposure has also been linked to other adverse health effects such as acute beryllium disease and lung cancer.
OSHA’s current eight-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium is 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The current PEL was set over 40 years ago – in 1971. OSHA’s proposed rule would reduce the eight-hour PEL to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter and require additional protections such as personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training. OSHA estimates that the new rule could prevent almost 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses each year.
OSHA’s press release on the proposed rule is available here and the full text of the proposed rule is published in the federal register. Comments on the proposed rule must be submitted to OSHA before November 5, 2015.