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OSHA updates regulations for cancer-causing beryllium

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has updated its standards for worker exposure to beryllium, a metal known to cause disease. The exposure limits established more than four decades ago have not proven sufficient to protect workers, said the director of OSHA. The new rules allow employers in Louisiana and around the country one year to adjust to most of the requirements and grant two years to add changing rooms and showers that will be needed by employees in some work settings. A three-year grace period has been created to give employers time to update engineering controls.

According to the new rules, the acceptable exposure limit must be at or below 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air during an eight-hour average time period. Alternatively, 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air measured over a 15-minute sampling period would represent a permissible amount of beryllium. New requirements for exposure assessment, respiratory protection, protective clothing, equipment, medical surveillance and record keeping accompany the updated limits.

Industries that expose people to beryllium include dental laboratories, beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing, metal grinding, foundry and smelting and fabricating. According to OSHA, reduced exposure will prevent 90 people from dying prematurely every year as well as prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease annually.

Although typically associated with injuries resulting from a workplace accident, workers' compensation benefits also can cover occupational diseases. However, since many of these types of illnesses take a long time to manifest, some employers will attempt to deny claims on the basis that the disease was not work-related. As a result, having the assistance of an attorney might be advisable when appealing the decision at a subsequent hearing.

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