The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began on July 6 to enforce its direct final rule (DFR) on workplace safety standards for exposure to beryllium in general industry. Enforcement of certain requirements of the standard — including provisions for beryllium work areas, regulated work areas, methods of compliance, personal protective clothing and equipment, hygiene areas and practices, housekeeping, communication of hazards, and recordkeeping — will be delayed until August 9.
Beryllium is a metal noted for its lightweight and exceptional stiffness. It’s used as specialty alloy (particularly with aluminum) to produce high-value investment castings, particularly for aerospace and defense programs. It’s also used to produce beryllium-oxide ceramics.
But, beryllium presents two risks of toxic exposure: first via soluble beryllium salts, which may occur via exposure to the elemental or refined forms of the metal; and second, via long-term exposure to beryllium oxide, usually by inhalation.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to ensure safe and healthful workplaces, and makes OSHA responsible for ensuring and enforcing these conditions.
In January 2017 OSHA issued a final rule establishing new protections for workers who are exposed to beryllium in general industry, construction, and shipyards. That rule would reduce the eight-hour permissible exposure limit from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms/m3 to 0.2 micrograms/m3. Above that level, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. The rule requires additional protections, including personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training. It also establishes a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms/m3 over a 15-min. sampling period.
The agency previously has estimated that, once in full effect, its new rule will save 94 lives annually and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease. Workers in foundries, fabricating, machining and grinding operations where beryllium metal and alloys are processed; or those working with beryllium-oxide ceramics; and dental lab workers represent most of those at risk of exposure.
On May 11, 2018, OSHA began enforcing the permissible exposure limits for beryllium exposure in the construction and maritime industries, as well as other requirements of the general industry standard. However, the agency said it will not enforce any other provisions for beryllium exposure in those standards unless it provides notice.
Enforcement of the general industry requirements for change rooms and showers will begin March 11, 2019, and requirements for engineering controls will begin March 10, 2020.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.