OSHA today announced a new proposed standard for beryllium, a standard that would update a 1971 rule.

“Today, we are taking a long overdue step,” Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels said during a teleconference.

Materion, the country’s primary beryllium product manufacturer, and the United Steelworkers in 2012 approached OSHA together to suggest an updated standard. It was that collaboration between industry and labor that helped propel the standard forward faster, advocates said.

“It gave our efforts more momentum,” Michaels said.

The proposed standard reduces the permissible exposure limit 90 percent – from an eight-hour PEL of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air to an eight-hour PEL of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air – and requires additional protections, such as personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training.

The existing standard was first established in 1948 by the Atomic Energy Commission and later adopted by OSHA.

“Certainly our technology and our science and our commitment to workers have improved greatly since then,” United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard during the teleconference.

OSHA estimates the rule annually could prevent 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses (chronic beryllium disease, lung disease) from beryllium, the majority of which occur in foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics and composites manufacturing and dental lab work.

“Our cooperative efforts demonstrate that industry and labor can collaborate to protect workers and to protect jobs at the same time,” said Materion CEO Richard Hipple, adding that he hoped the collaboration could “serve as a guide for OSHA and industry.”

The proposed standard will be published in the Aug. 7 issue of the Federal Register. Members of the public can submit written comments here until Nov. 9.