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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration once again proved its allegiance to workers’ health with a recent ruling that updates a decades-old beryllium exposure standard.
Beryllium is a natural occurring element found commonly in the earth’s crust in a variety of materials such as rocks, soil, and volcanic dust. Also, it can be detected in very small quantities in foods, such as beans and barley.
Due to its properties (light weight, stiffness, resistant to corrosion, etc.), Beryllium is a key component of materials used in industrial applications in several industries, including the aerospace, defense, automotive, and medical sectors. Despite all of its charm (you can’t deny the beauty of a piece of beryl or bertrandite nor the sophistication of beryllium containing materials), beryllium can pose health risks to workers. During the processing of beryllium-containing materials, small particles containing beryllium can become airborne in the forms of dust or fumes and in quantities that can exceed the permissible exposure levels in occupational environments.
Workers who handle beryllium containing materials and are exposed to airborne particles above permissible levels are at risk of developing a serious lung disease known as Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD).
Members of the beryllium industry have long researched the mechanisms of exposure to beryllium particulate, the health effects associated with such exposures, and the best methods and practices for keeping beryllium exposure as low as feasiblly possible while processing beryllium-containing materials. As a result, the beryllium industry came up with the Beryllium Worker Protection Model, which outlines the best practices and controls to reduce workers’ exposures to beryllium and most importantly, that have been proven to be effective in the prevention of CBD.
In this model, individuals are able to understand the likelihood of exposure to beryllium particulate given the material being processed and the techniques utilized to do so. The individuals are also instructed how to control such exposures. In addition, the model has recommended observing a Recommended Exposure Limit to Beryllium of 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air (0.2 µg/m3) for over 10 years, well prior to the new OSHA Beryllium rule.
After a few years of collaborative work between the top producer in the beryllium industry (Materion Brush, Inc.) and labor representatives (United Steel Workers), the entities jointly proposed a new model standard to OSHA in 2012. OSHA issued its final standard for Beryllium on January 9th of this year.
The new OSHA Beryllium Standard now regulates a PEL of 0.2 µg/m3, which is similar to what has been recommended for over a decade by the beryllium industry to its customers, vendors, and to anyone else that has been interested in learning how to best protect workers’ health.
In addition, the new OSHA Beryllium Standard provides employers with requirements on other elements of worker health protection that include:
This is the first update that OSHA has made to the Beryllium PEL since its inception in 1972. The new OSHA Beryllium Standard regulation goes into effect on March 10, 2017. This date is likely to be extended for another 60 days due to the change in the administration. Therefore, the new effective date will be established by an Executive Order. One year after that date, most elements of the standard will be enforced.
Some requirements of the standard that are more complex in nature (more resource demanding) are scheduled to be enforced between 2 to 3 years following the effective date. Therefore, businesses have been provided with ample time to strategize how they’ll comply with the standard.
My recommendation to the affected industries and businesses is to start promptly strategizing a compliance plan with the new Beryllium Standard. For this, there are valuable resources made available by the beryllium industry, including the experts themselves who are willing to share best practices on beryllium worker health protection. For more information, you can contact the Materion Product Safety Hotline at 1-800-862-4118 (outside the U.S.) or +1-216-383-4019 (within the U.S.).
In addition, if you want to learn how best manage your beryllium exposure data and need to pinpoint the departments, work areas and tasks that are likely to be of concern from an exposure profile standpoint, contact us to inquire about our Industrial Hygiene Management solution.
Like everything else in life, increase your odds of success by going to the experts and those who have mastered that which you deeply desire.