Learn about OSHA's Recently Proposed Beryllium Rulemaking
The element beryllium is a grey metal that is stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum. 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. Beryllium is classified as a strategic and critical material by the U.S. Department of Defense. In 2014, the U.S. produced 270 metric tons of beryllium domestically and imported 68 metric tons, increases from 2013 of 15% and 19% respectively. Government stockpile release is another source of beryllium. Bertrandite (<1% beryllium) is the principal mineral mined for beryllium in the U.S. while beryl (4% beryllium) is the principal mineral mined for beryllium in the rest of the world.
Beryllium is used industrially in three forms: as a pure metal, as beryllium oxide, and most commonly, as an alloy with copper, aluminum, magnesium, or nickel. Beryllium oxide (called beryllia) is known for its high heat capacity and is an important component of certain sensitive electronic equipment. Beryllium alloys are classified into two types: high beryllium content (up to 30% beryllium) and low beryllium content (2 - 3% beryllium). Copper-beryllium alloy is commonly used to make bushings, bearings, and springs.
This page offers guidance that may be useful to workers and employers across a number of industries. Resources for general industry and construction are highlighted where appropriate.
- OSHA proposal would lower beryllium levels, increase workplace protections. OSHA News Release, (August 6, 2015).
- Health Effects of Exposure to Beryllium. OSHA Fact Sheet (Publication 3822), (2015).
- OSHA's Proposed Beryllium Rule: Overview. OSHA Fact Sheet (Publication 3821), (2015).
- Beryllium Safety in the Workplace. OSHA InfoSheet (Publication 3823), (2015).
- Los Alamos National Laboratory Training Videos - Beryllium Worker Safety
- U.S. Department of Energy Video - Beryllium Awareness
Why is beryllium a hazard to workers?
Workers in industries where beryllium is processed may be exposed to beryllium by inhaling or contacting beryllium in the air or on surfaces. Inhaling or contacting beryllium can cause an immune response that results in an individual becoming sensitized to beryllium. Individuals with beryllium sensitization can develop a debilitating disease of the lungs called chronic beryllium disease (CBD) if they inhale airborne beryllium after becoming sensitized. Beryllium-exposed workers may also develop other adverse health effects such as acute beryllium disease, and lung cancer. See the Health Effects section of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for beryllium for more information.
What is OSHA doing to protect workers from exposure to beryllium?
OSHA enforces permissible exposure limits (PELs) for beryllium to protect employees in general industry, construction, and shipyards. Employers must ensure that employees are not exposed to levels of beryllium above the PELs in their workplaces. OSHA recognizes that many of its PELs, including those for beryllium, are outdated and inadequate for ensuring protection of worker health. OSHA provides a PELs – Annotated Tables webpage that lists alternate occupational exposure limits for hazardous substances to better protect workers from hazardous substances such as beryllium.
OSHA has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for beryllium, which if adopted, will reduce the current PELs and include ancillary provisions such as medical surveillance and regulated work areas to protect workers from exposure to this toxic substance.
Who is exposed to beryllium in the workplace?
OSHA estimates that approximately 35,000 workers in general industry are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 4,088 establishments in the United States. While the highest exposures occur in the workplace, family members of workers who work with beryllium also have potential exposure from contaminated work clothing and vehicles. Based on OSHA Integrated Management Information System and industry exposure data, beryllium workers in primary beryllium manufacturing and alloy production, machining and fabrication, and recycling have the highest average exposures to beryllium. Occupations with potential exposure to beryllium include:
- Primary Beryllium Production Workers
- Workers Processing Beryllium Metal/Alloys/Composites
- Foundry Workers
- Furnace Tenders
- Machine Operators
- Metal Fabricators
- Dental Technicians
- Secondary smelting and refining (recycling electronic and computer parts, metals)
- Abrasive Blasters (slags)
Certain types of slags (coal, copper) used in abrasive blasting operations may contain heavy metals such as beryllium and arsenic as a trace contaminant (< 0.1 % by weight). Due to the high dust conditions inherent in abrasive blast operations, workers involved in these activities may be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium. OSHA's general industry (1910.94) and construction (1926.57) ventilation standards and OSHA's arsenic standards for general industry (1910.1018) and for construction (1926.1118) provide some protection from toxic dusts generated during abrasive blasting operations.
Where is beryllium used?
End products1 containing beryllium and beryllium compounds are used in many industries including:
- Aerospace (aircraft braking systems, engines, satellites)
- 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)
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small businesses may contact OSHA's free On-site Consultation services funded by OSHA to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites. To contact free consultation services, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
1 This list describes end uses of products containing beryllium, not sources of beryllium exposure. Exposures to beryllium occur in the processing of beryllium-containing materials to produce these end products, not in the use of these end products in their finished form.