April 17, 2018

Following OSHA's stricter beryllium exposure guidelines

Shortness of breath, unexplained coughing, fatigue, weight loss, fever and night sweats—these are the symptoms of chronic beryllium disease, an illness caused by the toxic metal beryllium. CBD sparks millions of dollars in medical bills each year for everything from medicine to, in extreme cases, lung transplants.

For decades, the federal government has been eyeing a crackdown on levels of beryllium exposure in the workplace to combat this potentially fatal disease. That crackdown is finally coming, though later than expected.

Last month, OSHA delayed implementation of the new and highly anticipated guidelines governing occupational exposure to beryllium. Enforcement will begin on May 11, 2018, roughly two months after the initial date the agency set last year. The extra time will allow OSHA to consider feedback from stakeholders aimed at simplifying and clarifying its requirements.

The existing guidelines were established in the 1970s. The updates come in response to longtime concerns that businesses are not taking proper steps to keep workers safe from this potentially toxic metal, which is found in copper and nickel alloys that are used to make missiles, electronics, aircraft and more.

Limiting exposure to beryllium dust or salt in the workplace could prevent dozens of deaths each year and reduce the incidence of CBD, which does not have a cure. Increased risk of lung cancer has also been linked to beryllium exposure.

OSHA says the new standards will cover some 62,000 workers at roughly 7,300 companies.

The agency took input from unions and beryllium manufacturers when setting the new standards. If your business includes fabricating, machining, shipyards, construction or dental labs, you may be subject to the new guidelines, which ask you to:

  • Decrease employee exposure to beryllium to the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over eight hours.
  • Limit employee exposure to beryllium to the new short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period.
  • Use engineering and work practice controls, such as ventilation and enclosure, to reduce employee exposure, and provide respirators in other cases.
  • Limit access by workers to high-exposure locations.
  • Train workers on the hazards of beryllium.
  • Write an exposure control plan.
  • Offer medical exams to workers exposed to beryllium and give medical removal protection benefits to those with beryllium-related diseases.

Don't forget, Pinnacol has industrial hygienists on staff who can help you evaluate employee exposure to beryllium at your worksite.

Questions? Contact us at safetyoncall@pinnacol.com.