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March 06, 2018
OSHA delays enforcement of beryllium standards

In a recent memorandum for regional administrators, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced its decision to delay enforcement of the beryllium standards for general industry, shipyards, and construction until May 11, 2018.

The Occupational Exposure to Beryllium final rule—published January 9, 2017—establishes new permissible exposure limits (PELs) in all industries. The rule also includes requirements for engineering controls, showers and change rooms, personal protective equipment, medical surveillance, and training.

Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical, and defense industries. However, it is highly toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into the workplace air that can then be inhaled by workers, potentially damaging their lungs.

According to OSHA, the rule will annually save the lives of 94 workers from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease. Workers in foundry and smelting operations; fabricating, machining, or grinding beryllium metal and alloys; beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing, and dental lab work represent the majority of those at risk.

Beryllium exposure is also a concern in other industries. Employees handling fly ash residue from the coal-burning process in coal-fired power plants risk beryllium exposure. In the construction and shipyard industries, abrasive blasters and their helpers may be exposed to beryllium from the use of slag blasting abrasives. Work done in these operations may cause high dust levels and significant beryllium exposures despite the low beryllium content.

The start of enforcement was set for March 12, 2018. This delay provides additional time for employers to know the exposure levels to protect workers and comply with the new requirements. But the Agency will begin enforcing the new 0.2-micrograms-per-cubic-meter PEL in all industries on May 11, 2018.

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