Beryllium is a metal used across an array of industries including coal blasting space exploration and nuclear energy. It has become a valuable resource for engineers due to its lightweight strength and its ability to withstand the harsh environments many industries require. However, this material can also be deadly to many of the workers employed in these industries. It seems that just micro-sized amounts of beryllium dust and fumes can cause cancer as well as other major illnesses.
In 1975, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration made an attempt to tighten its standards regarding worker exposure to beryllium, but was defeated by the opposition of the secretaries of energy and defense. The opposition stemmed from beryllium’s critical use in the nuclear weapons industry, with the secretaries arguing that reducing worker exposure could compromise the nation’s defense strategies.
Now, OSHA is once again addressing industrial exposure to beryllium. On Thursday, August 6, OSHA proposed a set of new standards designed to reduce the acceptable level of exposure from two micrograms per an eight-hour shift to 0.2 micrograms per shift. OSHA staff members believe this reduction could save nearly 100 lives annually while also preventing up to 50 serious illnesses each year.
The new beryllium exposure standards could also benefit the nation, which has already paid compensation to some 2,500 nuclear weapons workers who have been diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease. OSHA also reports the use of beryllium in additional products such as space telescopes, dental appliances and golf clubs.
Hopefully, the new OSHA standards regarding beryllium exposure will soon be put into place, minimizing the risk of illnesses for workers in Pennsylvania. In the meantime, any worker in the state who believes he or she became ill because of beryllium will benefit from speaking with an attorney. A lawyer can help these victims with workers’ compensation insurance as well as third party lawsuits in some cases.
Source: The Center for Public Integrity, “OSHA seeks to reduce exposure to highly useful, highly toxic metal,” Jamie Smith Hopkins, Aug. 05, 2015