Weekly Compliance Digest – OSHA Final Rule on Beryllium Levels
Occupational Exposure to Beryllium
What is it?
Last week, OSHA announced that it had issued a final rule to significantly lower workplace exposure to beryllium, a material that can cause lung diseases.
Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical and defense industries. It is highly toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into the workplace air that can be then inhaled by workers.
Recent scientific evidence shows that low-level exposures to beryllium can cause serious lung disease. The new rule revises previous beryllium permissible exposure limits, which were established in 1948 by the Atomic Energy Commission and adopted by OSHA in 1971. OSHA had published a proposed rule in 2015, which was followed by a public comment period and hearings.
OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers, including approximately 11,500 construction and shipyard workers, are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 7,300 establishments in the U.S.
Who is affected?
The finalized new beryllium standards are for general industry, construction, and shipyards.
In construction and shipyards, exposure to beryllium primarily occurs when metal slags that contain trace amounts of beryllium (<0.1% by weight) are used in abrasive blasting operations.
In general industry, exposure to beryllium can occur in the following industries and activities:
- Beryllium Production
- Beryllium Oxide Ceramics and Composites
- Nonferrous Foundries
- Secondary Smelting, Refining, and Alloying
- Precision Turned Products
- Copper Rolling, Drawing, and Extruding
- Fabrication of Beryllium Alloy Products
- Dental Laboratories
- Coal-fired Power Utilities
Products containing beryllium and beryllium compounds are used in the following industries. This list describes end uses of products containing beryllium, not sources of beryllium exposure. Exposures to beryllium occur in the processing of beryllium-containing materials to produce these end products, not in the use of these end products in their finished form:
- Aerospace: aircraft braking systems, engines, satellites, space telescope
- Automotive: anti-lock brake systems, ignitions
- Ceramic manufacturing: rocket covers, semiconductor chips
- Defense: missile parts, guidance systems, optical systems
- Dental labs: alloys in crowns, bridges and dental plates
- Electronics: x- rays, computer parts, telecommunication parts, automotive parts
- Energy: microwave devices, relays
- Medicine: laser devices, electro-medical devices, X-ray windows
- Nuclear energy: heat shields, reactors
- Sporting goods: golf clubs, bicycles
- Telecommunications: optical systems, wireless base stations
What are the requirements?
Under the final rule, OSHA will:
- Reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over 8-hours. The previous limit was 2.0 µg/m3.
- Establish a new short term exposure limit (STEL) for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period.
- Require employers to:
- Assess exposures.
- Use engineering and work practice controls (e.g. ventilation or enclosure) to limit worker exposure to beryllium.
- Limit worker access to high-exposure areas.
- Provide respirators when controls cannot adequately limit exposure.
- Provide personal protective clothing when high exposures or dermal contact is possible.
- Develop a written exposure control plan.
- Train workers on beryllium hazards.
- Make available medical exams to monitor exposed workers.
- Provide medical removal protection benefits to workers identified with a beryllium-related disease.
What is next?
The final rule will take effect on March 21, 2017, unless the incoming Trump administration and Congress decide to reverse it. The rule includes the following compliance dates that are phased in to ensure that employers have sufficient time to meet requirements and get the right protections in place:
- March 12, 2018: Compliance with most provisions of the rule.
- March 11, 2019: Implementation of requirements for change rooms and showers.
- March 10, 2020: Implementation of engineering control requirements.
UPDATE: On March 1, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a proposed delay in the effective date of the rule, from March 21, 2017, to May 20, 2017.
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