WASHINGTON (Aug. 21, 2015) — The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed significantly lower exposure limits for beryllium and related compounds that are used in applications that include anti-lock braking and fuel-injection systems.
The new limit for beryllium would be 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter — just one-tenth the current level, the Specialty Equipment Market Association's (SEMA) Washington, D.C, staff reported. Beryllium is a naturally occurring element that has many beneficial attributes and widespread applications. It is one-third lighter than aluminium, a chemical element in the boron group, yet is stiffer than steel, resistant to fatigue and corrosion, and is recyclable.
SEMA said beryllium is frequently used in airbag, power-steering, anti-lock braking and fuel-injection systems.
According to the trade group, OSHA believes a small percentage of workers exposed to the chemical may develop chronic beryllium lung disease. Most worker exposure is associated with foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics and composite manufacturing. If approved, the agency estimates the new standard would apply to about 35,000 workers and potentially prevent approximately 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses annually.
The industry would be required to implement exposure control methods — restricted beryllium work areas, respirators, protective clothing, etc — to meet the new limits, SEMA said.