OSHA issued a final ruling in early 2017 to protect workers from beryllium exposure that will prevent chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer in American workers employed in general industry, construction and shipyards.
Beryllium is a grey metal that is stronger than steel but lighter than aluminum. Because of its physical properties, it is an essential material used in the aerospace, telecommunications, technology, defense, medical and nuclear industries.
Workers who may be exposed to beryllium include:
- Foundry workers
- Furnace tenders
- Machine operators
- Metal fabricators
- Abrasive blasters
Workers in these industries may be exposed to beryllium in the workplace by inhaling it or by physical contact. After inhalation or contact, workers can become sensitized to beryllium and then become at risk for developing a debilitating disease of the lungs called chronic beryllium disease (CBD). Workers who have come in contact with beryllium are also at risk for developing acute beryllium disease and lung cancer.
OSHA estimates that beryllium is used in over 7,000 work environments in the United States that could potentially expose over 60,000 American workers. Family members of workers who come in contact with beryllium are also at risk from potential exposure from contaminated clothing and vehicles.
Responsible employers have been protecting their workers from harmful beryllium exposure by using a combination of engineering, training, personal protective equipment, work practice controls and specialized equipment. However, to ensure that all workers have a right to a safe and healthy workplace, OSHA has issued a ruling that will legally limit beryllium exposure in all workplaces where this material is used.
- This new ruling replaces a 40-year old permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium that was outdated. OSHA confirmed that the previous rule did not adequately protect worker health. The final rule reflects input from industry manufacturers, labor stakeholders, small business representatives, subject matter experts and labor unions. This ruling has been under investigation for a possible change by OSHA since before 2002, over 15 years at the time of the new ruling, so it has been no small effort.
OSHA estimates that the rule will save 94 lives from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease each year, once the effects of the rule are fully realized. The rule is projected to provide net benefits of about $560.9 million, annually.
The key provisions of this ruling are as follows:
- Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over 8 hours (previous exposure limit was 2.0 micrograms, for comparison)
- Establishes a new short term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period
- Requires employers to use engineering and work practice controls to limit worker exposure (for example: ventilation or enclosure)
- Requires employers to provide respirators when controls cannot adequately limit exposure
- Requires employers to develop a written beryllium exposure control plan and train workers on beryllium hazards
- Requires employers to ensure medical exams are available to exposed workers and provide medical removal protection benefits to workers identified with any beryllium-related disease
The OSHA General Industry Standard, the OSHA Construction Standard and the OSHA Shipyards Standard are all included in this ruling that takes effect on March 10, 2017. All sectors have two years from the effective date, until March 11, 2019, to provide required change rooms and showers and three years, until March 10, 2020, to implement engineering controls.
To read more about the OSHA Beryllium Exposure Final Rule including a link to a copy of the Federal Register, fact sheets, FAQs, more please visit OSHA’s Beryllium Rule page at osha.gov.
Weeklysafety.com is committed to improving workplace safety by providing employers access to hundreds of safety meeting topics, toolbox talks, and safety resources including a written safety program, new employee orientation and our book “Survival Guide to Keep OSHA Off Your Back.” Learn more at Weeklysafety.com.