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OSHA Passes New Rule on Occupational Exposure to Beryllium

Be BeryLlium

Michigan Employers Must Now Comply with New Beryllium Rule

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has started to enforce the final rule on occupational exposure to beryllium in all forms, compounds, and mixtures in general, construction, and shipyard industries. Set into action on May 12, 2018, stakeholders now have further obligations to protect worker health from beryllium-related diseases. These new standards are replacing a 40-year-old permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium that was outdated and did not adequately limit hazardous work environments that housed the extremely strong metal.

Once the effects of the rule are fully realized, OSHA estimates that the rule has the ability to “save 90 lives from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease each year as well as provide net benefits of about $560.9 million, annually.”

Most notably, changes to the rule have:

  • Reduced the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over 8-hours.
  • Established a new short-term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period.
  • Required employers to: use engineering and work practice controls (such as ventilation or enclosure) to limit worker exposure to beryllium; provide respirators when controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high-exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan; and train workers on beryllium hazards.
  • Required employers to make available medical exams to monitor exposed workers and provide medical removal protection benefits to workers identified with a beryllium-related disease.

However, OSHA is allowing employers to have an additional year (March 11, 2019) to provide required change rooms and showers, and an additional two years (March 10, 2020) to implement engineering controls.

In January 2017, OSHA issued several new comprehensive health standards addressing exposure to beryllium in all industries and has since been working with employers to identify exposure levels and offering assistance to support compliance if a company was failing to meet the new PEL or short-term exposure limit (STEL).

Workers at Risk from Exposure

It’s estimated by the National Institutes for Health that around 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium on the job each year. The exposures occur when beryllium (and beryllium-containing materials) are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into the workplace air.

Worker exposures to beryllium most often occur in:

  • foundry and smelting operations
  • fabricating
  • machining
  • grinding beryllium metal and alloys
  • beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing
  • dental lab work

Workers at coal-fired power plants may encounter beryllium when handling fly ash residue from the coal burning process. Additionally, in the construction and shipyard industries found across Michigan, abrasive blasters and support personnel may be exposed to beryllium from slags, the by-product leftover after metal has been separated. Slag is usually a mixture of metal oxides and silicon dioxide, metal sulfides and elemental metals. From Escanaba to Detroit, large-scale shipbuilding is no stranger to Michigan’s Great Lakes workers. We would like to trust these employers are listening to and following these new rules.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD)

Inhaling or contacting beryllium can cause an immune response that results in an individual becoming sensitized to beryllium. Individuals with beryllium sensitization are at risk for developing a debilitating disease of the lungs called chronic beryllium disease (CBD) if they inhale airborne beryllium after becoming sensitized. CBD signs and symptoms can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • night sweats

Beryllium-exposed workers may also develop other adverse health effects such as acute beryllium disease, and even lung cancer. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) say it may take months or years after exposure to beryllium to appear and that CBD will continue to progress even after a worker has been removed from an exposed worksite.

At this time, there is no known cure for CBD although treatment may include corticosteroids, oxygen, and other means to ease symptoms or slow the disease progression.

Employers Must Now Adhere to Medical Surveillance Standards

Also under the new rule, “if a worker has been exposed above the action level of 0.1 μg/m3 for 30 days in a year; show any of the common signs or symptoms of CBD; were exposed to beryllium during an emergency; or have received a recommendation for continued medical surveillance from a physician or other licensed health care professional (PLHCP) from the most recent exam” the employer is required under the new beryllium standards to offer medical surveillance. Employers must also provide certain requested information to the PLHCP.

It is an employer’s responsibility to ensure appropriate measures are taken to maintain a safe and productive work environment in regard to this new rule on beryllium exposure because Michigan workers have a right to a safe workplace. Michigan workers who feel unsafe should contact MIOSHA, and should never feel unable to report and discuss violations. If a worker has been retaliated against for exercising his or her rights, the worker may file a complaint with OSHA, but it must be done within 30 days. Retaliation by an employer or other employees for speaking up is not allowed under the law and legal help should be sought immediately. 

We Can Help Protect Your Employee Rights

If you are a Michigan worker suffering an occupational disease from a harmful exposure to a metal like beryllium, whether arising out of and in the scope of employment, or you have been retaliated against for filling a safety complaint against your employer, it is essential you contact the Lee Steinberg Law Firm to make sure you know your rights.

The Lee Steinberg Law Firm are work injury and workers’ rights experts, with a history of representing Michigan laborers for over 40 years. Let our Michigan attorneys help you and fight for you. Please call 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) or fill out the Free Case Evaluation Form so we can answer any questions you may have about Michigan hazardous exposure illnesses or actions of retaliation by your employer.

Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Frequently Asked Questions: Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds, 2018