By Meg Whynot-Young & Karen Sanborn
This article was last updated on May 16, 2018
On May 7, 2018 OSHA issued a Direct Final Rule (DFR) to clarify the final rule that was issued on January 9, 2017 for exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds.
Highlights of the Beryllium Rule Update
In this DFR, OSHA is clarifying “aspects of the beryllium standard for general industry as it applies to process, operations, or areas where workers may be exposed to materials containing less than 0.1% beryllium by weight.” The DFR was released after industry stakeholders petitioned the court challenging the general industry standard issued on January 9, 2017. OSHA’s goal is to ease the burden the January 9 standard places on employers whose employees who have airborne exposure to trace amounts of beryllium (less than or equal to 0.1 percent).
The public comment period is open until June 6, 2018. If no changes are to be made the DFR will become effective on July 6, 2018.
Changes to the Standard
Change to the definition of beryllium work area: “Beryllium work area means any work area: (1) Containing a process or operation that can release beryllium and that involves materials that contain at least 0.1% beryllium by weight; and (2) where employees are, or can reasonably be expected to be, exposed to airborne beryllium at any level or where there is the potential for dermal contact with beryllium.”
Addition of definition of dermal contact: “Dermal contact with beryllium means skin exposure to: (1) Soluble beryllium compounds containing beryllium in concentrations greater than or equal to 0.1 percent by weight; (2) solutions containing beryllium in concentrations greater than or equal to 0.1 percent by weight; or (3) dust, fumes, or mists containing beryllium in concentrations greater than or equal to 0.1 percent by weight.”
Addition of definition of beryllium-contaminated and contaminated with beryllium: “Contaminated with beryllium and beryllium-contaminated mean contaminated with dust, fumes, mists, or solutions containing beryllium in concentrations greater than or equal to 0.1 percent by weight.”
Clarification of hygiene provisions: “This proposal would also add the term “beryllium-contaminated” to certain requirements pertaining to eating and drinking areas to clarify that hygiene requirements in these areas apply only where materials containing more than 0.1% beryllium by weight may contaminate such areas.”
Clarification of provisions for disposal and recycling: The DFR limits the disposal and recycling provisions in the standard released on January 9, 2017 to “materials that contain beryllium in concentrations of 0.1 percent by weight or more or are contaminated with beryllium.”
Change to housekeeping provisions: Housekeeping provisions will only apply to regulated areas.
Change to the definition of emergency: “Emergency means any occurrence such as, but not limited to, equipment failure, rupture of containers, or failure of control equipment, which may or does result in an uncontrolled and unintended release of airborne beryllium that presents a significant hazard.”
Important Elements That Have Not Changed
No changes have been made to permissible exposure limits (PELs), PEL time-weighted average (TWA), or short-term exposure limits (STEL).
After the public comment period has closed, if there are no changes to be made the DFR will become effective on July 6, 2018.
When the DFR becomes effective (potentially July 6, 2018) there will be no increased enforcement of the beryllium standard for general industry, which began March 12, 2018, for most of the standard, March 11, 2019, to provide required change rooms and showers, and March 10, 2020, to implement engineering controls. In fact, OSHA hopes that compliance with the DFR will be easier than the standard released on January 9, 2017.
This DFR applies to general industry. Separate standards were created for construction and shipyards. Beryllium exposure is a safety concern for all three industries.
Hazards of Beryllium Exposure
Lung cancer is seen in people working with beryllium at levels above the permissible exposure limits. Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD), or Berylliosis, is a pulmonary disease caused by beryllium exposure and causes granulomas to form in the lungs, scarring them. Fortunately, acute CBD is relatively rare today due to workplace safety regulations.
Occupations/ Tasks with Higher Level Risk for Beryllium Exposure
Beryllium (Be) is a naturally occurring element. It is used to create alloys of aluminum, copper, iron, and nickel. According to OSHA’s FactSheet occupations and tasks within general industry that could potentially have a higher exposure rate are:
• 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
Beryllium is often used as a coating on wiring, due to its protective properties. Common uses include electrical components in the medical, automotive electronics, communications, medical and aerospace industries. It is also found in abrasive blasting media and in coal processing. Components for welding may also contain beryllium due to this material's bonding properties for joining some alloys. Beryllium oxidizes quickly, making a protective coating, but this oxidation must also be removed prior to welding with beryllium-containing products and grinding, blasting and wire-brushing can create potentially harmful dust.
Controls include reducing and maintaining airborne exposure to levels below the PEL and STEL and implement the proper ventilation, process control, and having a written exposure control plan. When it is not feasible to maintain levels below the PEL and STEL, employers are required to reduce airborne exposure to the greatest extent possible and provide respiratory protection.
Hygiene controls include personal protective clothing and decontamination that does not reintroduce beryllium into the air. Additionally, employers must identify beryllium work areas and other regulated areas and adhere to the OSHA standards for those areas.
Housekeeping controls include vacuuming with a HEPA filtered vacuum instead of sweeping.
Production regulations will generally apply to processes with at least 0.1% beryllium by weight. OSHA permits a maximum airborne exposure of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter (0.2 μg/m3) as an 8-hour TWA and 2.0 µg/m3 as a STEL determined over a 15-minute sampling period. The current PEL TWA is 10 times lower than the previous PEL TWA.
From OSHA, “Therefore, in the final standard, it is exempting from the standard's application materials containing less than 0.1% beryllium by weight only where the employer has objective data demonstrating that employee [airborne] exposure to beryllium will remain below the action level as an 8-hour TWA under any foreseeable conditions. 82 FR 2643.”
Personal Protective Equipment
When airborne levels of beryllium cannot be maintained at or below the PEL and STEL, then respiratory protection must be provided.
Revising the Beryllium Standard for General Industry. OSHA, 2018. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/05/07/2018-09306/revising-the-beryllium-standard-for-general-industry. Accessed May 16, 2018.
Final Rule to Protect Workers from Beryllium Exposure Topic Page. OSHA, 2018. https://www.osha.gov/berylliumrule/index.html. Accessed May 16, 2018.
Protecting Workers from Exposure to Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds: Final Rule Overview. OSHA, 2017. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3821.pdf. Accessed May 16, 2018.