Federal regulators have finalized a new rule limiting workplace exposure to beryllium, a metal that is present in some blasting abrasives and has been linked to lung disease.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced its final rule Friday (Jan. 6), publishing the regulation in the Federal Register. The rule comprises three separate standards, for general industry, shipyards and construction. The construction and shipyard rules apply when materials contain greater than 0.1 percent beryllium by weight.
The new rule reduces the eight-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) for airborne beryllium from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter, a limit that applies to all industries. If beryllium exposure is greater than the PEL, employers must take extra steps, including providing engineering controls, medical exams or medical surveillance.
Beryllium levels in abrasives are generally very low, the agency says, but because of the fine dust generated in the blasting process, it can still be dangerous. (Image does not depict requirements of new rule.)
The rule also establishes a short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period.
Beryllium is a component of coal, certain rock materials, volcanic dust and soil used in several industrial applications. Breathing air containing beryllium can deposit beryllium particles in the lungs, presenting immune-system and respiratory risks. Beryllium is a known human carcinogen and can cause chronic lung disease.
Beryllium in Blasting
OSHA notes in its rule that workers performing abrasive blasting can be exposed to fine particles of beryllium when the abrasive media contains the metal, as coal and copper slag sometimes do. Beryllium levels in abrasives are generally very low, the agency says, but because of the fine dust generated in the blasting process, it can still be dangerous.
“Due to the very small amounts of beryllium in these materials, the final PEL for beryllium will be exceeded only during operations that generate excessive amount of visible airborne dust, for which engineering controls and respiratory protection are already required,” the rule states.
However, proper work practices such as temporary enclosures and maintaining appropriate distance are required at blasting sites to protect other workers in the area of the work from potential beryllium exposure.
Others at Risk
OSHA also concluded that pot tenders, helpers and cleanup workers have the potential for significant airborne beryllium exposure during abrasive blasting operations and during cleanup of spent abrasive material. Accordingly, these workers (and anyone with a potential dermal exposure) require protection under the beryllium standards.
All three rules require employers to develop written exposure control plan for minimizing cross contamination, including preventing the transfer of beryllium between surfaces, equipment, clothing, materials, and articles within beryllium work areas.
The previous 2.0 micrograms-per-cubic meter limit was established by OSHA in 1971, and, according to the agency, goes back to limits developed by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948. The new rule was subject to numerous hearings and public comment periods, including debate as to whether blasting operations would be included.
“Due to the potential presence of beryllium in several abrasive materials and the requirements for providing PPE, housekeeping and hygiene facilities when dermal contact with beryllium is possible, this regulation could have a dramatic impact on many abrasive blast cleaning projects,” says Alison B. Kaelin, of ABKaelin LLC.
Effective and Compliance Dates
The final rule becomes effective March 10, 2017. Compliance enforcement dates will come over the next three years, depending on industry. Most provisions will be required to be in place one year after the rule’s effective date, but employers will have a longer time to implement aspects like change rooms, showers and engineering controls.
The OSHA website features a copy of the standard, frequently asked questions and guidance on medical surveillance requirements.