OSHA is proposing a new standard that would lower workplace exposure to beryllium, a widely used material that can cause devastating lung diseases. Here’s what you need to know:
Beryllium is a lightweight but strong metal used principally in the aerospace and defense industries. The most common use is in beryllium-copper alloy because of its electrical and thermal conductivity, high strength and hardness, good corrosion and fatigue resistance, and nonmagnetic properties. Another form is beryllium oxide which is an excellent heat conductor, with high strength and hardness, and acts as an electrical insulator in some applications.
The proposal would apply to an estimated 35,000 workers covered by OSHA.
- Beryllium is an essential component of nuclear weapons, and the Federal government has paid more than $500 million in compensation to nearly 2,500 former or current nuclear weapons workers who developed chronic beryllium disease after being exposed to beryllium.
- Today, the majority of workers exposed to beryllium work in foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics and composites manufacturing and dental lab work.
- OSHA estimates that the rule could prevent almost 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses each year. Workers who inhale beryllium particles can develop a debilitating, incurable illness known as chronic beryllium disease, and are also at increased risk of lung cancer. Dangers arise when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, mist or other forms.
Additional information on the proposed rule can be found here.
photo credit: Emedco