After lobbying efforts by the Abrasive Blasting Manufacturers Alliance and other industry insiders, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it is rolling back its proposed beryllium rules that would have protected Illinois workers from exposure to the dangerous mineral. The rules had been proposed while President Obama was still in office and was meant to protect workers in the maritime and construction industries from beryllium. Companies that produce coal slag, which contains beryllium and is used in sandblasting, had vigorously worked to get OSHA to roll back its rule. In addition to construction and maritime work, workers in the aerospace, metalworking, manufacturing, and defense industries are often exposed to beryllium at work.
Dangers of Beryllium Exposure
Beryllium is six times as strong as steel and is lighter than aluminum, making it useful for industrial purposes. It is also toxic to lung tissue, however. Workers who are exposed to it may breathe it in, damaging their lungs. The beryllium dust may also be carried home on the clothing of workers, risking exposure of their family members. People who are exposed to small amounts of beryllium may contract chronic beryllium disease, which is a disabling lung condition. Victims may suffer from multiple symptoms, including heart disease, difficulty breathing, enlarged right sides of the heart, weight loss, fatigue, and weakness. Beryllium exposure has also been linked to suicidal thoughts and damage to the chromosomes of victims. Each year, an average of 100 victims in the U.S. die as a result of their exposures to beryllium.
After lobbying efforts that cost opponents of the rule $60,000, OSHA announced a rollback of its proposed rule on June 23. While construction companies and shipyards will be required to adhere to the same exposure standards of other industries, OSHA rolled back other safety provisions that would have helped to protect workers. OSHA stated that requiring health monitoring of workers who must work around beryllium was unnecessary and overlapped with other safety measures. Safety experts disagree and argue that the weakened rules will result in many workers suffering serious disabilities or deaths each year.
Workers should make sure to use proper safety equipment to help to prevent themselves from potentially deadly beryllium exposures. A workers’ comp lawyer may help victims and their families recover benefits to pay for their medical care and replace portions of their incomes.