Worker Cancer Protections Slated for Scrapping

Picture of cartoon miner

Beryllium is a toxic metal stronger than that of steel. Its uses are varied, it can be found in the aerospace, manufacturing, medical, defense and other industries. The metal is grey in form and a little heavier than paper or foil. It’s heavily mined in the U.S. and purchased abroad. Because of its properties and ability to be mixed with other alloys it has grown to be a highly sought after material. It comes in three primary forms as a natural metal, as an alloy and oxide.

According to the Department of Labor (DOL) which is one of the Executive Offices of the President, tens of thousands of workers are exposed to the hazards of Beryllium poisoning each year. In addition, families of exposed workers are susceptible to cross contamination as well. For decades the DOL has sought to reduce workers exposure to contamination which can occur by inhaling or by physical contact. Exposure reduction efforts have been in the form of legislation and guidelines suggesting and requiring maximum exposure limits not be exceeded within certain specified time periods.

When exposure occurs fatal diseases including lung cancer are possible. In January 2017 the DOL was to make a final decision on protections required to safeguard workers. The initial decision was to toughen standards further protecting workers because of a new understanding of the toxicity and likely contamination inherit in Beryllium usage. However, the new suggested standards were postponed again (May 2017) by request. A new ruling is due to occur late August, in the interim the administration’s recommending no rule changes.

The suggestion is to leave current limits in place because if workers are still alive protections aren’t needed. The sentiment is that no one should complain until dead. According to the administration workers shouldn’t complain until death occurs. When dead the administration will allow lawsuits to proceed if brought on by the dead worker only. So, when zombie workers become a reality they’ll look into changing the exposure limits to safeguard employees from toxic exposure, until then workers should be happy to be employed.  

More can be found at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/beryllium/index.html and at https://www.osha.gov/berylliumrule/ and at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/06/27/2017-12871/occupational-exposure-to-beryllium-and-beryllium-compounds-in-construction-and-shipyard-sectors and at https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/national/06232017