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OSHA issues new beryllium exposure rule

Industrial workers in metal and ceramic production, construction and shipyards are familiar with many hazards in a day's work. Sometimes it's not the labor or the heavy machinery that's the biggest danger, though. Sometimes it's the air itself.

Lung problems aren't limited to miners, but to steel workers and anyone else working with toxic materials. Beryllium is a lightweight metal with dangerous fumes that cause serious and chronic conditions when inhaled.

Research and new rulings

Beginning next year, employers will have to deal with lowered exposure limits, with OSHA updating a decades-old ruling to fit new proof about just how dangerous the metal is. The Atomic Energy Commission set the current limits, predating OSHA's formation. While the metal has long been known to cause chronic beryllium disease, lesser exposure can cause health problems for workers too. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, joint pain, coughing and more.

OSHA's research estimates the new rules will save 94 lives each year while preventing another 46 cases from developing.

Exposure to harmful chemicals

The new limits will help worker health, but they come after years of allowing dangerous exposure levels, and still don't take effect until March 2018. United Steelworkers have been pushing for the change since the 1970s, finally seeing them take effect years after people in the industry knew that OSHA wasn't doing enough.

Both scientific research and regulatory change takes time, unfortunately, which has put additional healthy bodies into harm's way. Workers concerned about exposure to beryllium or other harmful substances in the workplace should consult medical and legal professions for a full understanding of their options.

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