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A breath of relief: Workers are protected from airborne danger

Thousands of workers around the country walk into danger every day of their lives. Some workers breathe in toxic airborne particles during their 8 to 4 job and may not even know it. One of these common airborne dangers called beryllium has recently been brought into the spotlight. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a rule earlier this month to lower exposure levels for workers around the nation. This new rule dramatically lowers the accepted levels of exposure to beryllium, protecting 62,000 workers in the U.S.

What is beryllium and does it affect me?

Beryllium is a common metal used in many industries. Workers are exposed by inhaling tiny metal particles through dust or fumes. Typical industries which can expose workers to beryllium are:

  • Computers
  • Aerospace
  • Industrial ceramics
  • Laboratory workers
  • Construction
  • Metal recycling
  • Metal forging/welding
  • Shipyards

In general workers who are around metals, ceramics and salts are at risk of inhaling small beryllium particles. Construction and shipyard workers are most often affected by the metal dust when they use blasting operations with slags that have small bits of beryllium in them. Yet even small amounts of exposure have been found to cause disease, affecting secretaries, security guards and bystanders at beryllium-using facilities.

The effects of exposure can be deadly

The effects of exposure lead to chronic beryllium diseases and lung cancer, which can be deadly. Workers who begin experiencing symptoms similar to pneumonia or bronchitis should see a physician. These symptoms can be warnings of beryllium disease or lung cancer. Workers can file a workers' compensation claim if the symptoms are connected to their job.

OSHA's new rule reduces the tolerated exposure limits, pushing employers to use better ventilation, provide respirators and limit worker access to highly toxic areas. Companies which expose their workers to beryllium will now need to have medical exams available and provide medical removal protection benefits to workers with beryllium-related illness. The new rule will kick in March 10, 2017. It is expected to save 94 lives and prevent 46 new cases of disease each year.

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