On May 11, OSHA’s new beryllium standard for general industry comes into enforcement, as do parts of the beryllium standards for construction and shipyards. This article reviews some beryllium basics and outlines what you need to do to comply.
What is beryllium?
Beryllium is a metal. It started to be widely used in the 1940s and 1950s because it’s much lighter than aluminum and about six times stiffer than steel. Here are some of beryllium’s other useful characteristics:
- High melting point
- High capacity for heat absorption
- Good corrosion resistance
Today, beryllium is used in a variety of industries, including aerospace, electronics, defense, and medical industries.
Beryllium can be used on its own or as a compound. For example, beryllium copper is used to make a range of products, from non-sparking tools that can be used in environments with explosive hazards, to molds for shaping plastic parts, to sports equipment. Beryllium oxide is commonly used in the ceramics for electronics and electronic equipment.
The new rule applies to beryllium in all its forms. There is an exemption for materials containing less than 0.1% beryllium by weight (as long as the employer can demonstrate that employee exposure is below a certain level).
Why is beryllium hazardous?
Beryllium is highly toxic. Workers who inhale beryllium are at risk of developing lung cancer or chronic beryllium disease (CBD), which is a serious pulmonary disease that can be fatal. Between 1-3% of people exposed to beryllium develop CBD. In high-exposure occupations, that number can be as high as 14%. CBD can be treated, but it can’t be cured.
The agency expects the new rule to save 90 lives per year, as well as prevent 46 new cases of CBD annually.
What industries are affected by the standard?
OSHA estimates that 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium. Most affected workers are in general industry. About 11,500 are shipyard and construction workers.
These are the industries OSHA identifies as being most affected:
- 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
- Construction and shipyards (abrasive blasting with slags)
- Coal-fired power utilities
What are the key provisions of the standard?
The standard has four main provisions:
- It reduces the 8-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms/m3. This is a tenfold decrease from the previous PEL, which was established 45 years ago.
- It establishes a short-term exposure limit (STEL) for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms/m3 over a 15-minute sampling period.
- It requires employers to do the following:
- Use engineering and work practice controls to limit worker exposure to beryllium
- Provide respirators when controls can’t adequately limit exposure
- Limit worker access to high-exposure areas
- Develop a written exposure control plan
- Train workers on beryllium hazards
- It requires employers to provide medical exams to monitor exposed workers and medical removal protection benefits to workers identified with a beryllium-related disease.
What are some examples of engineering and work practice controls?
Similar to other OSHA standards, the beryllium rule requires employers to first implement engineering and work practice controls to limit exposure. Respiratory protection should only be used if the engineering and work practice controls can’t keep exposure below the PEL.
Examples of engineering controls
- Process isolation
- Ventilated enclosures
- Local exhaust ventilation (LEV)
Examples of work practice controls
- Keeping surfaces clean using a HEPA-filtered vacuum
- Wetting down dust before sweeping it up
What is the compliance schedule?
All three standards become enforceable next month, but some requirements have an enforcement delay.
- General industry. Employers must comply with all parts of the standard by May 11, 2018, with two exceptions:
- Requirements for change rooms and showers come into enforcement on March 11, 2019.
- Requirements for engineering controls come into enforcement on March 10, 2020.
- Construction and shipyard. Employers must comply with the PEL and STEL requirements on May 11, 2018. According to a letter of interpretation issued on March 2, “no other parts of the construction and shipyard beryllium standards will be enforced without additional notice.”