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January 9, 2017

OSHA Issues New Beryllium Rule that Drastically Cuts PELs

PPE Respirator
OSHA has issued a final rule dramatically limiting exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds. The new rule contains standards for general industry, construction, and shipyards.

The rule cuts the eight-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) from the current 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms. Above 0.2, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration. The new rule also requires additional protections including personal protective equipment, medical exams, medical surveillance and training. The new standards take effect in March, with most compliance required by March 2018.

Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical care and defense. OSHA says the metal is highly toxic when released as airborne dust, fumes or mist that can be inhaled by workers. OSHA estimates the rule will save 94 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.

"Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure," said OSHA head Dr. David Michaels. "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."

About 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium in their workplaces, including some 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.

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 10, 2017, after which all three sectors have one year (March 12, 2018) to comply with most of the requirements. All sectors have two years (March 11, 2019) from the effective date to provide any required change rooms and showers and three years (March 10, 2020) from the effective date to implement engineering controls.

Issued After Years of Study and Public Input

The final rule replaces a 40-year-old PEL that did not adequately protect worker health. OSHA formally asked for public input on a possible beryllium rule in 2002, and OSHA visited worksites, performed risk assessments and calculated potential impacts on small businesses. In 2012, the effort received a boost when a major beryllium manufacturer and a labor union representing many beryllium workers jointly submitted a model for a new rule. OSHA issued a proposed rule in 2015.


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