Please note: in a release issued on the 1/3/17, the US DOL has proposed a delay to the implemenatation of the new rule from March 21, 2017, to May 20, 2017.
OSHA has issued a new rule which will dramatically reduce workplace exposure to beryllium, a strong, lightweight metal used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical and defence industries. While strategically important, repeated exposure to beryllium can result in devastating lung diseases. The new beryllium standards are applicable to general industry, construction and shipyards and mean that employers will be required to take further, practical measures to protect workers.
When beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into the workplace, the resulting air that can be then inhaled by workers, can be highly toxic, potentially damaging their lungs. It is estimated that 62,000 workers will be directly affected by the new rule and the serious risks posed by the material.
Effective from March, 2017, the new rule re-writes previous beryllium permissible exposure limits which were based on studies that were decades old. Recent scientific research reveals that even low-level exposure to the material can cause serious lung disease including ‘Berylliosis’, or chronic beryllium disease (CBD) - a chronic allergic-type lung response and chronic lung disease, a form of beryllium poisoning.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. David Michaels commented:
"Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure. OSHA's new standard is based on a strong foundation of science and consensus on the need for action, including peer-reviewed scientific evidence, a model standard developed by industry and labor, current consensus standards and extensive public outreach. The new limits will reduce exposures and protect the lives and lungs of thousands of beryllium-exposed workers."
The final rule is set to reduce by a tenth the previous eight-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL or PSHA PEL) from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms per cubic metre to 0.2 micrograms. If employees risk exposure at levels higher than this, the employer must take remedial action to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. The rule new rule will also require additional protections such as PPE, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training. Over a 15-minute sampling period, a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms per cubic metre will be further imposed by the new rule.
OSHA estimates that once the new rule is up and running, it will save the lives of 94 workers from beryllium-related diseases annually and prevent a further 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease. The biggest percentage of ‘at-risk workers’ fall within foundry and smelting operations, fabricating, machining, grinding beryllium metal and alloys, beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing and dental lab work roles.
However, beryllium exposure is also a concern in other industries - employees handling fly ash residue from the coal-burning process in coal-fired power plants for example, risk exposure. The construction and shipyard industries, those working with abrasive blasters may experience beryllium exposure in using slag blasting abrasives - such operations can cause high dust levels and significant exposure despite the low beryllium content.
Staggered compliance dates have been set in order to offer employers sufficient time to meet the new requirements and put proper protections in place. However, once the rule is effective, employers will have one year to implement most of the standard's provisions and must furthermore provide the required change rooms and showers beginning two years thereafter as well as implement engineering controls three years after.
Final rule at the Federal Register https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-30409.pdf
OSHA: Beryllium Rule Making https://www.osha.gov/dsg/beryllium/rulemaking.html
Background information proposing the new rule (08/07/2015 and containing 365 public comments) can be found here. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2015/08/07/2015-17596/occupational-exposure-to-beryllium-and-beryllium-compounds
The CCOHS has compiled a great fact sheet on the health effects of beryllium and has included a comprehensive list of the occupations and industries that may face exposure to beryllium. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/beryllium.html