Weekly Compliance Digest – Occupational Exposure to Beryllium
Occupational Exposure to Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds (Document Citation: 80 FR 47565)
What is it?
Beryllium is a metal used especially in the aerospace and defense industries. The most common use is in beryllium-copper alloy because of its electrical and thermal conductivity, high strength and hardness, good corrosion and fatigue resistance, and nonmagnetic properties. Another form is beryllium oxide which is an effective heat conductor, with high strength and hardness, and acts as an electrical insulator in some applications.
Workers who inhale airborne beryllium can develop a lung condition called chronic beryllium disease or CBD. Occupational exposure to beryllium has also been linked to lung cancer. Beryllium is classified as a human carcinogen by the US Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program and IARC.
OSHA currently enforces a 45-year-old permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium in general industry, construction and shipyards that is outdated and does not adequately protect worker health, the agency says. OSHA released a proposed rule in August 2015 that would amend its existing PEL in general industry to beryllium and beryllium compounds.
Who is affected?
According to OSHA, about 35,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 4,088 establishments in the U.S. Based on OSHA Integrated Management Information System and industry exposure data, beryllium workers in primary beryllium manufacturing and alloy production, machining and fabrication, and recycling have the highest average exposures to beryllium. Occupations with potential exposure to beryllium include:
- Primary beryllium production workers
- Workers processing beryllium metal/alloys/composites:
- Foundry workers
- Furnace tenders
- Machine operators
- Metal fabricators
- Dental technicians
- Secondary smelting and refining (recycling electronic and computer parts, metals)
- Abrasive blasters (slags)
Sectors that are potentially impacted by the proposed rule include:
- Aerospace (aircraft braking systems, engines, satellites)
- Automotive (anti-lock brake systems, ignitions)
- Ceramic manufacturing (rocket covers, semiconductor chips)
- Defense (components for missile parts, guidance systems, optical systems)
- Dental labs (alloys used for crowns, bridges and dental plates)
- Electronics (x-rays, computer parts, telecommunication parts, automotive parts)
- Medicine (laser devices, electro-medical devices, X-ray windows)
- Nuclear energy (heat shields, reactors)
- Sporting goods manufacturing (golf clubs, bicycles)
- Telecommunications (optical systems, wireless base stations)
What are the requirements?
OSHA is proposing to:
- Lower the 8 hour time-weighted average (TWA) PEL for beryllium for general industry from the current standard of 2.0 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter (µg/m3) TWA to 0.2 µg/m3 TWA.
- Lower the acceptable ceiling concentration of 5.0 µg/m3 to a short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 2.0 µg/m3 as determined over 15 minutes.
- Require companies to:
- Measure workers’ beryllium exposure
- Limit workers’ access to areas where beryllium exposures are above the limits
- Implement effective control methods for reducing exposures (e.g. respiratory protection)
- Conduct medical surveillance, including medical exams, for workers with high beryllium exposures
- Follow Medical Removal Protection provisions
- Train workers about beryllium-related hazards and how to limit exposure
- Keep records of workers’ beryllium exposure and medical exams
When beryllium exposure levels exceed the PEL, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. The current PEL was originally established in 1948 by the Atomic Energy Commission and adopted by OSHA in 1971.
What is next?
The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on August 7, 2015. The comments period closed on November 5, 2015. A public hearing will be held February 29, 2016, in Washington, D.C. People who intend to present testimony or question witnesses at the hearing must submit a notice of intention to appear by January 29, 2016.
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