It’s soft, malleable, bluish-white, is resistant to corrosion, and looks a bit like zinc. It’s also bad for your health – cadmium exposure.
Cadmium, the soft metal found in a particular type of batteries that power many electronic devices today, may be a godsend to those who love their consumer electronics, but it’s actually a dangerous, toxic substance and, for that, it’s the latest subject of concern of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. worksite safety watchdog.
The health dangers from cadmium exposure (as well as from other toxic substances) are well established and are covered in OSHA training such as OSHA 10 and OSHA 30. Short-term exposure to the metal can cause flu-like symptoms: weakness, sweating, muscular pain, fever, headache, chills. Long-term exposure, on the other hand, can cause kidney damage and malignancies in the lungs or, in males, in the prostate. Cadmium exposure is also associated with osteomalacia (softening of the bones), osteoporosis, and pulmonary emphysema.
According to OSHA, the risk of cadmium exposure is present in many industrial activities, including welding operations, metal machining, smelting and refining of metals, painting, ceramics making, and plastics manufacturing. Estimates by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry place the number of workers exposed to cadmium at 300,000 every year.
OSHA announced this December its release of a new online tool to assist employers to comply with the agency’s cadmium standard (29 CFR 1910.1027), and in so doing, help protect general industry workers from exposure to the substance. OSHA pointed out that there is a separate cadmium standard (29 CFR 1926.1127) for construction workers.
The interactive online tool, the Cadmium Biological Monitoring Advisor, assesses biological information from monitoring data provided by the user. OSHA explained that these data and the user’s replies to set questions provided by the cadmium advisor generate a list of biological monitoring and medical surveillance requirements that need to be fulfilled for one to be compliant with the general industry cadmium standard. Among the more common requirements that come up are the frequency of additional monitoring and other mandatory components of the employer’s medical surveillance program.
Although the cadmium advisor is designed primarily for use by medical professionals who are experienced in evaluating cadmium exposure in workers, it can also be used by the workers themselves or the public as a resource for information on what makes for a cadmium exposure and what measures to take to prevent exposure at the worksite.
OSHA noted that although cadmium advisor does not specifically refer to the applicable provisions of the separate cadmium standard for construction workers, it can still be an important aid in the medical analysis of biological monitoring of construction workers—as well as, of course, of other workers in general industry.
The cadmium advisor is actually from the family of eLaws—OSHA’s Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses—that the agency specifically put together to raise awareness in and understanding of federal employment laws and resources. OSHA enjoins employers and employees to access these tools here.