OSHA’s Final Rule on Beryllium Exposure

OSHA has issued a final rule to prevent chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer in American workers by limiting their exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds. The rule contains standards for general industry, construction, and shipyards.

Update: OSHA issued it Jan. 6, 2017, aiming to reduce an estimated 62,000 workers’ exposure to beryllium — exposures that can cause lung diseases — and setting it to take effect in 60 days. But the effective date was delayed. OSHA first delayed the effective date for the rule in February to March 21 after President Donald Trump issued a directive to freeze federal regulations pending review during the transition to the new administration. The extended review is also in line with the White House regulatory freeze, the DOL said.

OSHA estimates that the rule will save 90 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.

About 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium in their workplaces, including approximately 11,500 construction and shipyard workers who may conduct abrasive blasting operations using slags that contain trace amounts of beryllium. The majority of workers affected by this rule are exposed in general industry operations such as beryllium metal and ceramic production, non-ferrous foundries, and fabrication of beryllium alloy products. Responsible employers have been protecting workers from harmful exposure to beryllium for years, using engineering and work practice controls along with personal protective clothing and equipment.

Visit OSHA’s Final Rule on Beryllium page for information on the new final rule.

Key Provisions

  • Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over 8-hours.
  • Establishes a new short term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period.
  • Requires employers to: use engineering and work practice controls (such as ventilation or enclosure) to limit worker exposure to beryllium; provide respirators when controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high-exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan; and train workers on beryllium hazards.
  • Requires employers to make available medical exams to monitor exposed workers and provides medical removal protection benefits to workers identified with a beryllium-related disease.

Compliance Schedule
All three standards contained in the final rule take effect on March 21, 2017 (extended from March 10). The three sectors have one year from the original effective date (March 12, 2018) to comply with most of the requirements. All sectors have two years (March 11, 2019) from the original effective date to provide any required change rooms and showers and three years (March 10, 2020) from the original effective date to implement engineering controls.

Exposure to Beryllium
Exposure to beryllium via inhalation of airborne beryllium or skin contact with beryllium-containing dust, fume, mist, or solutions can cause health effects. Under OSHA’s beryllium standards (29 CFR 1910.1024; 29 CFR 1915.1024; 29 CFR 1926.1024) employers must reduce exposures to airborne beryllium to or below the beryllium PELs through engineering controls to the extent feasible, supplemented by respirators where all feasible controls are not sufficient to reduce exposures to or below the PELs. In addition, personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE) (e.g. gloves, shoe covers) is required when airborne exposures can exceed the PEL or STEL or there is the potential for skin exposure.

OSHA also requires employers provide workers with detailed training on the health effects of beryllium. Training must include, among other things: information on the health hazards associated with airborne exposure to and dermal contact with beryllium, including the signs and symptoms of CBD; information on the purpose, proper selection, fitting, proper use, and limitations of personal protective clothing and equipment, including respirators; any protective measures workers can take to protect themselves for airborne or skin exposure to beryllium (including personal hygiene practices); and the purpose and description of the medical surveillance program and medical removal protection.

Why is beryllium a hazard to workers?
Workers in industries where beryllium is present may be exposed to beryllium by inhaling or contacting beryllium in the air or on surfaces. Inhaling or contacting beryllium can cause an immune response that results in an individual becoming sensitized to beryllium. Individuals with beryllium sensitization are at risk for developing a debilitating disease of the lungs called chronic beryllium disease (CBD) if they inhale airborne beryllium after becoming sensitized. Beryllium-exposed workers may also develop other adverse health effects such as acute beryllium disease, and lung cancer.

What is OSHA doing to protect workers from exposure to beryllium?
OSHA’s new final rule for beryllium requires employers in general industry, construction, and shipyards to implement protective measures for workers who are exposed to beryllium. For more information on the compliance dates and requirements of the beryllium standards for general industry, construction, and shipyards see OSHA’s final rulemaking webpage.

Who is exposed to beryllium in the workplace?
OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 7,300 establishments in the United States. While the highest exposures occur in the workplace, family members of workers who work with beryllium also have potential exposure from contaminated work clothing and vehicles. Based on OSHA Integrated Management Information System and industry exposure data, beryllium workers in primary beryllium manufacturing and alloy production, 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
    • Machinists
    • Metal Fabricators
    • Welders
    • Dental Technicians
  • Secondary smelting and refining (recycling electronic and computer parts, metals)
  • Abrasive Blasters (slags)

Certain types of slags (coal, copper) used in abrasive blasting operations may contain trace amounts of beryllium (<0.1 % by weight). Due to the high dust conditions inherent in abrasive blasting operations, workers involved in these activities may be exposed to dangerous levels of beryllium.

Where is beryllium used?
End products1 containing beryllium and beryllium compounds are used in many industries including:

  • Aerospace (aircraft braking systems, engines, satellites, space telescope)
  • Automotive (anti- lock brake systems, ignitions)
  • Ceramic manufacturing (rocket covers, semiconductor chips)
  • Defense (components for  nuclear weapons, 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)

Primary Health Effects Associated with Exposure to Beryllium

Beryllium symbol – Be. Element of the periodic table zoomed

The most common health effects associated with overexposure to beryllium in the workplace include: beryllium sensitization, chronic beryllium disease (CBD), and lung cancer.

Beryllium Sensitization – Beryllium sensitization is the activation of the body’s immune response to beryllium. Beryllium sensitization can result from inhalation or skin exposure to beryllium dust, fume, mist, or solutions. While no clinical symptoms are associated with sensitization, a sensitized worker is at risk of developing CBD when inhalation exposure to beryllium has occurred.

Chronic Beryllium Disease – CBD is a chronic granulomatous lung disease caused by inhaling airborne beryllium after becoming sensitized to beryllium. The common symptoms of CBD are shortness of breath, unexplained coughing, fatigue, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. CBD can result from inhalation exposure to beryllium at levels below the current OSHA PEL (0.2 μg/m3). Progression of CBD can vary among individuals. For instance, after initial exposure to beryllium, some workers may quickly develop signs and severe symptoms of CBD. Others may not experience signs and symptoms until months or years after initial exposure. The symptoms can sometimes worsen even after the worker has been removed from exposure. CBD can progress to a chronic obstructive lung disorder, resulting in loss of quality of life and the potential for decreased life expectancy.

CBD shares many signs and symptoms with pulmonary sarcoidosis, a granulomatous lung disease of unknown cause or origin. Without appropriate diagnosis, CBD may be difficult to distinguish from sarcoidosis.

Lung cancer – Based on numerous studies in occupational settings, OSHA has determined that occupational exposure to beryllium causes lung cancer in humans. In addition, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies beryllium as a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans), and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) lists beryllium as a known human carcinogen.

Acute Beryllium Disease (ABD) – Acute beryllium disease (ABD) is a rapid onset form of chemical pneumonia that results from breathing high airborne concentrations of beryllium. ABD is generally associated with exposure to beryllium levels at or above 100 μg/m3 and may be fatal in 10 percent of cases. ABD is extremely rare in the workplace today due to more stringent exposure controls implemented following occupational and environmental standards set in the 1970s.

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