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OSHA rule regarding beryllium exposure finalized

Pennsylvania construction workers may be interested to learn that a new Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule lowers the exposure limits for beryllium. This lightweight metal, which is used in energy and electronics, is toxic and can cause severe damage to the lungs when it is inhaled.

Safety advocates say the original permissible exposure limits for beryllium were based on out-of-date studies and did not properly protected employees. The final rule was published on Jan. 9 and will be effective starting March 10. Under the rule, employees are only allowed to be exposed to 0.2 micrograms of the metal within an eight-hour period. The rule also sets a short-term exposure limit. Employees may be exposed to 2.0 micrograms of beryllium for a maximum 15-minute period. Additionally, the rule sets requirements regarding protective gear, training and medical exams.

Employers will be required to comply with the provisions within one year of the rule going into effect. Within two years, employers must provide showers and change rooms for employees. Within three years, employers must implement engineering controls. OSHA estimates that the rule could save 94 workers from diseases and prevent 46 new cases every single year.

If an employee begins to suffer medical complications caused from beryllium exposure, they could face expensive medical costs and be unable to work. A workers' compensation attorney may help the victim gather evidence that shows that the exposure occurred at work. In some cases, there may also be evidence that shows that the employer was not in compliance with OSHA standards, leading to the exposure. Workers' compensation benefits may cover medical costs and a portion of the person's wages while they are unable to work.

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