Beryllium Rule Planned for 2014


New federal proposals limiting worker exposure to beryllium—a particular hazard in open-air abrasive blasting—are on track to roll out in April, Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials say.

Details of the proposal are not yet available, but options under consideration include new Permissible Exposure Limits reducing those listed in OSHA's 1926.55 Appendix A (Occupational Health and Environmental Controls) and/or additional requirements for medical surveillance, according to a recent presentation by Tiffany DeFoe, a health scientist who is OSHA's project officer for the beryllium standard.

DeFoe updated the beryllium proposal's progress in December to OSHA's Advisory Committee for the Construction Industry.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for beryllium is expected to be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget in April, DeFoe said.

1970 Limits

The current Appendix A limits incorporate the 1970 American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists' Threshold Limit Values of Airborne Contaminant. The new medical surveillance under consideration could include physical exams, beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Testing (LPT), and/or CT scans, DeFoe said.

Beryllium, a toxic metal and component of coal, is "just a minor contaminant" in slag blast media, DeFoe said, but it can accumulate in thick blast dust to levels about the current PEL.

Abrasive Blasting

Beryllium is typically a trace element in coal abrasives, but poor ventilation and other unsafe practices can cause excessive worker exposures.

OSHA's current PEL for beryllium is 2.0 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air (2.0 µg/m3) over eight hours. The agency is looking at reducing the PEL to as low as 0.1 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air, DeFoe told Bloomberg News and confirmed in an email to PaintSquare News.

Other PEL thresholds under consideration are 0.2, 0.5 and 1 microgram per cubic meter, according to DeFoe's presentation.

The agency is also considering a new "short-term exposure limit to get some of those very high exposures under control,” DeFoe said.

Current requirements for respiratory protection, ventilation and personal protective equipment are not expected to change.

Protecting Blasters and Painters

OSHA estimates that 23,000 workers in construction are "potentially exposed" to excessive levels of beryllium, putting them at risk of sensitization, chronic beryllium disease, and lung cancer, DeFoe said.

Last year, OSHA reported "potential violations" by some slag-abrasive makers about beryllium disclosures on their labeling, following a complaint by the advocacy group Public Citizen.

The path to a new federal rule on beryllium exposure began in 2002 with a Request for Information. The Small Business Advocacy Review Panel released its analysis in January 2008.

United Steelworkers
United Steelworkers

The United Steelworkers has been seeking a new beryllium standard since 1999. Last year, the union joined beryllium maker Materion Brush in devising and submitting a model standard for OSHA's review.

In February 2012, Materion Brush, the leading U.S. supplier of beryllium, teamed up with the United Steelworkers to propose a model standard that sets a 0.2 µg/m3 threshhold and requires “feasible engineering controls in any operation which generates any beryllium dust or fume, even those which meet the exposure limit.”

'Too High'

“We believe the current OSHA permissible exposure limit for beryllium of 2 µg/m³ is too high,” Materion and the Steelworkers wrote OSHA Administrator David Michaels in a cover letter with the proposal.

“The current standard also lacks provisions for exposure monitoring, medical surveillance, information and training, all of which are critical to protecting exposed workers.”

abrasive blasting
Wikimedia Commons / Stan Zurek

Abrasive blasting operations create a "likely inhalation hazard" for those workers, according to the leading manufacturer of beryllium products.

Materion calls abrasive blasting operations a "likely inhalation hazard" for workers.

The Steelworkers have been pushing OSHA for a beryllium standard since 1999. The union represents workers who manufacture beryllium alloys and beryllium-containing products in a number of industries.

Materion said it hoped the model proposal would “expedite" the long-stalled beryllium rulemaking process.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Abrasives; Beryllium; Coal slag; Enforcement; Health & Safety; OSHA; Respirators; Ventilation

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