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Updated beryllium exposure standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is tasked with regulating workplace standards in the United States. Oklahoma residents who work in the construction, shipyard or general industries may be interested in knowing that OSHA recently issued a final rule reducing the occupational exposure limits for beryllium. The agency claims that the rule will prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related diseases and save the lives of 94 workers each year.

Beryllium is commonly used in multiple industries, including energy and electronics. However, the lightweight metal is extremely toxic when released into the air where it can be inhaled by workers and can cause various forms of lung damage, including chronic beryllium disease. Even low levels of beryllium in the air can result in health issues. According to the rule, which was published on January 9, 2017, and will be effective 60 days after its publication, workers who are exposed to beryllium based on the agency's previous guidelines face a substantial health risk.

Employers will have a year to be in compliance with most of the provisions in the standard. Two years after the rule's effective date, employers will have to provide changing rooms and showers. Three years after the rule become effective, employers will also be required to implement engineering controls.

A representative of OSHA stated in a press release that the new standard was based on scientific evidence and a general agreement on the need for action. This included peer-review scientific data, a model standard created by labor and industry as well as extensive public outreach and current consensus standards.

Workplace safety should be a priority for both employers and employees. An attorney who practices workers' compensation law may pursue litigation on behalf of an injured employee whose employer failed to provide a safe working environment.

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