OSHA's New Beryllium Standard Takes Effect

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a final rule to protect workers by limiting their exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds in an effort to prevent chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer. In addition to general industry, the final rule also contains standards for construction and shipyards.

OSHA's new rule reduces the standard for occupational exposure to beryllium dust from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air (2.0 µg/m3) over an eight-hour period to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter (0.2 µg/m3), similarly averaged over a typical eight hour work shift (TWA8). The standard includes an “Action Limit” at 0.1 µg/m3 (also as TWA8) that mandates implementation of certain controls and surveillance measures.

The new rule requires specific controls including:

  • protective measures and equipment
  • changing rooms and showers for employees
  • specific medical testing for employees at risk of exposure

The new OSHA regulation further stipulates that employers must establish and maintain a beryllium work area wherever employees are, or can reasonably be expected to be, exposed to airborne beryllium or dermal contact without regard to the level of exposure. OSHA included the construction and shipyard industries in the final rule after they were excluded from an initial proposal in 2015.

OSHA will start enforcement of the final rule on occupational exposure to beryllium on May 11, 2018, although some litigation remains pending.

This date included a delay intended to allow extra time for employers to comply with the rule prior to enforcement. It has been presumed that OSHA has been concurrently developing protocols to ensure uniform enforcement.

Beryllium is a recognized health hazard. Who's at risk?

Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in diverse industries such as aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical care, and defense. Workers in foundry and smelting operations; fabricating, machining, grinding beryllium metal and alloys; beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing; and dental labs are the majority of the workers who are at risk, according to OSHA.

Beryllium has long been a common constituent in metal alloys due to its beneficial metallurgical properties and/or trace contamination. However, it can be toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a manner that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into workplace air that can be then inhaled by workers.

OSHA believes previous permissible exposure limits were based on decades-old studies that did not adequately protect workers. Beryllium is considered a carcinogen, and additional postponement of rigorous enforcement should not be expected.

The 10 fold, or order of magnitude, reduction in the permissible exposure limit brings with it:

  • new complications in measurement
  • a need for comprehensive record keeping
  • corrective action documentation to minimize future liabilities

Contact your KERAMIDA project manager for assistance by specialized staff available to support your efforts to assure compliance with the new regulatory requirements. To review OSHA’s complete Beryllium Standard see 29 CFR 1910.1024.


Blog Author

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Bob Gilmore, CIH
Senior Project Manager
KERAMIDA Inc.

Contact Bob at rgilmore@keramida.com.