In January, 2017, OSHA announced it will update a rule that aims to prevent chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer for American workers by limiting their exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds. The final beryllium rule announcement contains standards for general industry, construction, and shipyards, and will require employers to take greater measures in protecting the 62,000 U.S. workers subjected to beryllium in the workplace. This number includes approximately 11,500 construction and shipyard workers who may conduct abrasive blasting operations using slags that contain trace amounts of beryllium.
The move to reduce the exposure limit was announced by OSHA in mid-2015. A public comment period followed, with several days of public hearings. The final rule reflects input from industry and labor stakeholders, small business representatives, subject matter experts and partner agencies.
What is Beryllium and Who is at Risk for Beryllium Related Disease?
Beryllium is a lightweight metal used in aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunications, medical, manufacturing, and defense trades. Within these industries, workers in foundry and smelting operations, fabricating, machining, grinding beryllium metal and alloys, beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing and dental lab work make up the majority of those at risk.
The metal can be highly toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust or fumes throughout the workplace. When inhaled by workers, it can cause lung damage known as berylliosis. The condition is life-threatening and incurable, but symptoms can be treated when diagnosed.
OSHA officials estimate that the rule will save the lives of 94 workers from beryllium-related diseases annually. It also stands to prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease per year. The projected net savings amount to over $560 million, annually.
What the New Ruling Entails
With the new rule in effect, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. The new ruling reduces the current permissible exposure limit from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter, averaged over eight hours. The rule requires additional protections which will include personal protective equipment (PPE) and training. Establishes a new short term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period.
According to OSHA, other main provisions of the new ruling are as follows:
- 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.
OSHA’s new Beryllium rule is available as a PDF on the agency's site.
When the New Ruling Takes Effect
OSHA states, “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.”
The final rule takes effect on March 21, 2017. General industry, construction, and shipyard 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.
How Visual Communication Can Help
Premade signs that alert employees of beryllium’s presence can be placed in workplaces that use beryllium or beryllium-containing materials capable of releasing airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist. Employers can also create labels on-demand with Graphic Products’ industrial printers such as the DuraLabel 9000. The company also offers a custom label service that can create almost any label a customer can dream up.
As well as stating the hazard, employers can also show workers what protection is needed with personal protective equipment (PPE) signage, including those for respiratory PPE, and can direct workers where to find protection and instructions in the event of accidental exposure.