The Beryllium Equilibrium: OSHA Schedules Public Hearing on Proposed Rule Intended to Significantly Limit Worker Exposure to Beryllium

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration scheduled a hearing on February 29, 2016 in Washington D.C. to discuss its proposed rule governing occupational exposure limits for beryllium and beryllium compounds.  The proposed rule, which was published on August 7, 2015, would significantly lower workplace exposure to the chemical.

OSHA’s present standard permits worker beryllium exposure to 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air over eight hours.  This standard was initially implemented by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948 and later adopted by OSHA in 1971.  OSHA’s proposed standard would reduce the eight-hour exposure limit to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter and require additional protections, including personal protective equipment (PPE), medical exams, and training.

By way of background, beryllium is a prevalent chemical in various industries. Its physical properties of great strength-to-weight, high melting point, excellent thermal stability and conductivity, reflectivity, and transparency to X-rays make it an essential material in the aerospace, telecommunications, defense, computer, medical and nuclear industries.  It is classified as a strategic and critical material by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Workers may be exposed to beryllium by inhaling or contacting it in the air or on surfaces.  Inhalation or contact with beryllium may cause an immune response that results in an individual becoming sensitized to the metal.  Such a sensitivity can cause lung disease or berylliosis  The commercial use of beryllium requires the use of dust control equipment and other industrial controls at all times due to its toxicity.

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