Beryllium Hazards & OSHA’s New Standard

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BERYLLIUM HAZARDS & OSHA’S NEW STANDARD

Beryllium… what is it?  Do you know much about it without reading further?  Most have heard about Beryllium but haven’t studied it or understand the hazards or common uses in the workplace.  That’s likely because it’s a very rare element that is only used in specific applications.  However, since OSHA passed a new regulation on Beryllium in General Industry on July 14, 2020 we thought we would provide some basic information, as well as a link to OSHA’s new regulation.

 

The number 4 element on the periodic table, abbreviated as “Be”, is Beryllium.  It is a very rare grey metal that is stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum.  It’s physical properties include a high melting point, excellent thermal stability and conductivity, reflectivity and invisibility to x-rays.  Although Beryllium is not widely used, it is a critical element in certain products.  Some of those products and the industries that manufacture them include:

 

  • Aerospace (aircraft braking systems, engines, satellites, space telescope)
  • Automotive (anti- lock brake systems, ignitions)
  • Ceramic manufacturing (rocket covers, semiconductor chips)
  • Defense (components for nuclear weapons, missile parts, guidance systems, optical systems)
  • Dental labs (alloys in crowns, bridges, and dental plates)
  • Electronics (x-rays, computer parts, telecommunication parts, automotive parts)
  • Energy (microwave devices, relays)
  • Medicine (laser devices, electro-medical devices, X-ray windows)
  • Nuclear energy (heat shields, reactors)
  • Sporting goods (golf clubs, bicycles)
  • Telecommunications (optical systems, wireless base stations)

Beryllium can be very dangerous when inhaling it’s fumes or touching contaminated surfaces.  Inhaling or contacting Beryllium can cause an individual to become sensitized (or sensitive) to it.  If an individual becomes sensitized and continues to be over-exposed they can develop several different types of lung disease, including: acute beryllium disease, Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD), and lung cancer.  Also, employees who experience occupational exposure may also put their family members and others at risk if they wear contaminated clothing home or in their vehicle.

 

OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 7,300 establishments in the United States.  Occupations that could be at high risk for Beryllium exposure include:

  • Primary Beryllium Production Workers
  • Workers Processing Beryllium Metal/Alloys/Composites
    • Foundry Workers
    • Furnace Tenders
    • Machine Operators
    • Machinists
    • Metal Fabricators
    • Welders
    • Dental Technicians
  • Secondary smelting and refining (recycling electronic and computer parts, metals)
  • Abrasive Blasters (slags)

OSHA published the first regulation for Beryllium exposure in 1975.  In 2017, they published three new Beryllium standards that were specific to General Industry (1910), Construction (1926), and Maritime (1915).  Due to some feedback and concerns, OSHA decided to temporarily suspend the enforcement of certain aspects of the General Industry (1910) standard.  Those aspects included provisions for changing rooms, implementation of engineering controls, and the established Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL).  On July 14, 2020 OSHA published a revised version of the 1910 standard that is intended to simply the understanding of the requirements.  The compliance date established for this final standard (as revised) is September 14, 2020 for all states governed by Federal OSHA.  States governed by state OSHA agencies may impose a slight delay and have other compliance dates.  For more information on OSHA’s newly revised Beryllium standard, please click here.

-Kevin Beswick, President RMS Safe

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