Beryllium: What, Why, and When?

Beryllium:  What, Why, and When?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has extended the compliance date for general industry ancillary provisions dealing with beryllium to December 12, 2018. In a final rule published on August 9, 2018, OSHA stated that the date applies to requirements for methods of compliance, work areas associated with beryllium, regulated areas, personal protective equipment and clothing, hygiene facilities, housekeeping, Hazard Communication requirements, and recordkeeping.

OSHA originally proposed the compliance extension in the June 1, 2018, Federal Register. At that time, OSHA stated that the organization was preparing to issue another notice of proposed rulemaking to clarify specific provisions of the standard and address employers’ concerns regarding burdens in their current operations due to the stricter standards. OSHA published a direct final rule on May 7, 2018, that aimed to clarify specific definitions and provisions for disposal and recycling, as well as potential skin exposure to materials that contain at least 0.1% beryllium by weight. The direct final rule went into effect on July 6, 2018. Ancillary provisions regarding change rooms and showers now have a compliance date of March 11, 2019, and engineering controls now have a compliance date of March 10, 2020.

OSHA has been enforcing permissible exposure limits of 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air and the short-term exposure limit of 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air since May 11, 2018. General industry, construction, and shipyards are subject to these standards. Additionally, general industry employers are expected to abide by standards that enforce requirements for employee exposure assessments, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, and medical removal are also in effect.

What is beryllium?

Beryllium and beryllium compounds are materials used in aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunications, medical, and defense industries. It is an extremely lightweight and strong metal that is widely used in electronics due to its desirable thermal conductivity, strength, and corrosion-resistant characteristics. Although it is widely used throughout those industries, beryllium is considered highly toxic. Workers who inhale beryllium are exposed to an increased risk of developing chronic beryllium disease (CBD) or lung cancer. In general industry, exposure to beryllium may occur during activities such as copper rolling, drawing and extruding, dental laboratories, precision turned products, welding, nonferrous foundries, and more. In construction and shipyards, exposure to beryllium primarily occurs when metal slags that contain small amounts of beryllium (less than 0.1% by weight) are used during abrasive blasting.

Why is it dangerous?

Compared to other OSHA industrial health and hygiene standards, the rule covering beryllium accounts for a relatively small workforce population. Approximately 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium. OSHA estimates that the final rule will protect 90 workers from beryllium-related diseases each year. OSHA also estimates that once the full effects of beryllium exposures are recognized, the new rule will prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium diseases annually. Chronic beryllium disease (CBD) is a serious pulmonary disease which can cause debilitating effects or death. Symptoms of the disease include shortness of breath, unexplained coughing, fatigue, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. Symptoms may take months or even years to manifest in those who experience beryllium exposure. CBD can also continue to progress in an exposed person even after that person is removed from the exposure. Exposure occurs most frequently through inhalation and dermal absorption.

Lung cancer is another disease associated with occupational exposure to beryllium. Beryllium dust, fumes, or mist are considered Group 1 carcinogens (cancer-causing in humans) according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The National Toxicology Program (NTP) also lists beryllium as a known human carcinogen. OSHA considers its original permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to be outdated and ineffective for preventing associated diseases. New science and research have led to more knowledge which enforces the need and requirement for greater protection for workers. OSHA also states that technology for most employers to meet the new requirements are widely available and feasible to obtain.

What is different about the new rule?

The new beryllium rule reduces the permissible exposure limit to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over 8 hours (0.2 µg/m3 8 TWA). The short-term exposure limit (STEL) for beryllium is 2.0 µg/m3 over a 15-minute sampling period. Employers are required to use engineering and work practice controls to prevent excessive amounts of airborne beryllium.

Employers are also required to limit access to high-exposure areas, provide respiratory protection when needed, and provide personal protective clothing when high exposures or dermal contact is possible. Employers must assess exposures and develop and implement written exposure control plans. Workers are also required to be training specifically to beryllium.

Medical examinations must be offered to certain exposed workers. If a specified beryllium-related health effect is identified, they must offer additional workplace accommodations to the worker to reduce the possibility of exposure.

To learn more about beryllium and its effects on workers in the workplace, visit OSHA's website. To read the final rule in the Federal Register, click here.

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Jason Kelts is the Director of Communications @ Appruv.

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