U.S. Beryllium Proposal Advances


After nearly 12 years in the pipeline, a federal plan to reduce beryllium exposure in the workplace has moved to the White House for final review.

On Friday (Sept. 5), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration submitted its proposed rule on Occupational Exposure to Beryllium to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OSHA is still enforcing beryllium limits set in 1971.

The OMB has 90 days to review the proposal, although that period can be extended—and often is. Proposed rules have languished at the OMB stage for months or even years.

OSHA said in January that the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would reach OMB by April.

12-Year Effort

OSHA has been working since 2002 toward rulemaking on employee exposure to beryllium. That year, it published a Request for Information (RFI) (67 FR 70707) to solicit information on occupational exposure to beryllium.

The agency sought data on current exposures to beryllium; the relationship between exposure and adverse health effects; exposure assessment and monitoring methods; control methods; and medical surveillance.

OSHA also conducted field surveys of selected worksites to assess exposures and control methods. Later, OSHA convened a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel and completed its Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act report in January 2008. An eight-month scientific peer review of the draft risk assessment was completed in 2010.

Industry Proposes Rule

In 2012, the United Steel Workers and other unions representing beryllium workers teamed up with Materion Brush Inc., the largest U.S. producer of beryllium, to produce draft text for a rule that would slash the occupational exposure limit for beryllium by 90 percent.

“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.”

That language would also require “feasible engineering controls in any operation which generates any beryllium dust or fume, even those which meet the exposure limit.”

United Steel Workers

The United Steel Workers, which first petitioned for new beryllium limits in 1999, worked with U.S. beryllium producer Materion Brush Inc. to produce draft text for a rule in 2012.

(The Steel Workers had petitioned OSHA in 1999 and 2001 to issue an emergency temporary standard for beryllium PEL.)

Blasting and Beryllium Risks

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. A known human carcinogen, beryllium is known to cause serious, chronic lung disease among exposed workers.

A 1999 OSHA Safety and Health Bulletin warned of the hazards of workplace exposures to the chemical and said that the current Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) of 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air for an eight-hour time-weighted average may not be adequate to prevent the occurrence of chronic beryllium disease.

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.

The coal-slag abrasive blasting industry would be “one of the most impacted groups” under the standard proposed by Materion, the company has said.

What May Change

Currently, employee exposures to beryllium are addressed in standards for general industry, specifically Subpart Z to Part 1910 for toxic and hazardous substances; §1910.1000 for air contaminants, and §1910.1200 for hazard communication.


OSHA's current PEL for beryllium is 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air (2.0 µg/m3) over eight hours. The agency is considering reducing the PEL to as low as 0.1 micrograms.

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 has said it is considering reducing the PEL to as low as 0.1 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air.

Other PEL thresholds under consideration are 0.2, 0.5 and 1 microgram per cubic meter. The agency is also considering a new "short-term exposure limit to get some of those very high exposures under control,” a spokeswoman said.

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

Once a proposed rule is released, a public comment period and public hearings would follow.



Find more on beryllium exposure at OSHA's Safety and Health Topics page for Beryllium: www.osha.gov


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Beryllium; Coal slag; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Regulations

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