On June 27, 2017, OSHA decided to temporarily exempt construction companies and shipyards from a recently adopted rule covering exposure to the substance beryllium.
Beryllium is a naturally occurring, lightweight metal that is commonly used to make a wide range of products, from airplane parts to computer components and dental equipment. While the metal itself is largely safe, airborne beryllium particles have been found to be dangerous to humans. Prolonged exposure to beryllium particles can lead to chronic beryllium disease (or CBD), which results in scarring and reduced functionality of the lungs. Chronic beryllium disease is estimated to kill 100 people annually.
The rule, which was finalized on January 6th, 2017, decreased the permissible exposure level for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter and required workers to undergo regular medical monitoring.
The rule came under scrutiny from sellers of coal slag, a product used for sandblasting in shipyards and at construction sites, who argued that there is no evidence that links the use of coal slag to chronic beryllium disease.
OSHA argues that those industries were not given enough time to comment on the rule before it was finalized. OSHA has also stated that the rule provided no additional benefits for shipyard and construction workers, because adequate protections were already in place, such as the use of protective gear.
Beryllium and other diseases from airborne particles can lead to an injury that is covered by workers’ compensation. Insurance companies and employers will often try to deny that these diseases are the result of a person’s work, which is why having a workers’ compensation lawyer on your side should always be the second step in any work-related disease, after seeing your doctor.
OSHA has said that they will not enforce the rule on shipyards and construction companies until they have decided whether to amend the rule to exclude them from it. OSHA is currently accepting comments from the public on the potential amendment until August 28, 2017. Comments can be made at the Federal Register website, here: