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Final Rule: OSHA Amends Beryllium Exposure Standard and PEL

Posted on 1/9/2017 by Roger Marks

New OSHA PEL for berylliumIn the Federal Register on January 9, 2017, OSHA published a Final Rule to amend its occupational exposure standard for beryllium and beryllium compounds. This Final Rule, which lowers the permissible exposure limit for beryllium and beryllium compounds and adds requirements for employers in general industry, shipyards, and construction, is effective March 10, 2017.
Read the Final Rule in the Federal Register here. 

New OSHA Beryllium Exposure Limits

The long awaited Final Rule lowers the permissible exposure limits (PELs) for beryllium and beryllium compounds, as follows:
8-hour time-weighted average (TWA): 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air (0.2 microgram/m3
Short-term (15 minute) exposure limit: 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air (2 micrograms/m3)
Before this rulemaking, the PEL values were 2 micrograms 8-hour TWA and 25 micrograms for 30-minute short exposures.

Three Separate Beryllium Standards

In addition to the amended PEL, OSHA is issuing three separate beryllium exposure standards to account for different circumstances found in general industry, shipyards, and construction.
While separate, the general industry, shipyard, and construction standards for beryllium exposure are similar in many ways and include requirements for:
  • Beryllium exposure assessment
  • Beryllium exposure control methods
  • Respiratory protection and PPE
  • Employee training and recordkeeping
  • Rules for medical surveillance
  • Hazard communication

What Is a Beryllium Work Area?

In the Final Rule, OSHA defines a “Beryllium Work Area” as “Work areas containing a process or operation that can release beryllium where employees are, or can reasonably be expected to be, exposed to airborne beryllium at any level.” This expanded definition includes work areas where employees may be exposed to skin contact with airborne beryllium.

What Is Beryllium and Why Is It Hazardous?

Beryllium (Be) is a periodic element that’s rare in nature. Its light weight and stiffness make it useful in a variety of industries, namely aerospace, nuclear energy, and manufacturing. It’s also frequently found in aluminum, copper, iron, and nickel alloys.
Beryllium is a known carcinogen and can cause chronic and fatal lung diseases, like chronic beryllium disease (berylliosis), pneumonitis, and others. While the former Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for beryllium was already the lowest for any metal, industry groups have long advocated for lowering it by up to 90%, which today’s Final Rule does.

History of the OSHA Beryllium Final Rule

Around 1999, the United Steel Workers petitioned OSHA to issue a standard that protects workers exposed to beryllium in the workplace. In 2002, OSHA requested information from industry and concerned parties about the risks, current exposure control methods for beryllium, employee training, and more.
A Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) review was completed in 2008, and scientific and economic peer reviews were subsequently completed.
OSHA’s proposed occupational exposure to beryllium Rule was sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in September 2014, and review was completed on July 7, 2015. The proposed rule appeared in the Federal Register in August 2015. The Final Rule was published on January 9 and takes effect on March 10, 2017.

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