OSHA Proposes Lower PEL for Beryllium
In August, OSHA issued a proposed rule that would lower the agency’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium in general industry from 2 µg/m3 to 0.2 µg/m3. According to OSHA, the new rule would require employers to measure workers’ exposures to beryllium, limit their access to areas where exposures exceed the PEL, implement controls for reducing exposures, and train workers about beryllium-related hazards. The current PEL of 2 µg/m3 is rooted in a standard established by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948. OSHA adopted the standard as one of its first PELs when the agency was created in 1971. Beryllium, a naturally occurring element, has applications in many industries, including electronics, aerospace, and metals manufacturing. According to OSHA, the majority of current worker exposures to beryllium occur in operations such as foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics and composites manufacturing and dental lab work. An OSHA fact sheet (PDF) states that the proposed rule would not cover some workers exposed to trace amounts of beryllium in raw materials, including those employed at coal-burning power plants and aluminum production facilities, and those performing abrasive blasting work with coal slag in the construction and shipyards industries. The agency will seek comment during the rulemaking process on whether these workers should also be covered by the final rule. Exposure to beryllium mist, dust, and fumes can cause chronic beryllium disease (CBD), which scars lung tissue and impairs the lungs’ ability to get oxygen to the bloodstream. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies beryllium as carcinogenic to humans.
The current PEL of 2 µg/m3 is rooted in a standard established by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948. OSHA adopted the standard as one of its first PELs in 1971.
During a media teleconference on Aug. 6, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels, PhD, MPH, highlighted the significance of the “historic collaboration effort between industry and labor” that helped advance the beryllium standard in the rulemaking process. He credited Materion, the largest U.S. producer of beryllium, and the United Steelworkers, a union that represents many of the workers who handle beryllium in their jobs, for jointly developing and suggesting a stronger standard. “Together, they created a framework for moving forward with a rule, and they brought it to OSHA in 2012,” Michaels said. “At that time, we were already hard at work on the beryllium standard, but the joint proposal from Materion and the Steelworkers gave our efforts new momentum and propelled us forward.” Michaels said that OSHA has reached out to stakeholders from unions, environmental groups, chemical manufacturers, and other employers who use chemicals in an attempt to engage these groups in discussions about how labor and industry can work together during the rulemaking process to more efficiently protect workers. “We hope other industries where workers are exposed to deadly substances join with representatives of those workers to propose ways to reduce exposures, prevent diseases, and save lives,” he said. The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on Aug. 7. OSHA will accept public comments on the proposal until Nov. 5, 2015.