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Frequently Asked Questions:
Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds

Background and Health Impacts

Beryllium is a lightweight but extremely strong metal used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunications, medical, and defense industries. Beryllium-copper alloys are widely used because of their electrical and thermal conductivity, hardness, and good corrosion resistance. Beryllium oxide is used to make ceramics for electronics and other electrical equipment because of its heat conductivity, high strength and hardness, and good electrical insulation. Metal slags and fly ash (a byproduct of coal-fired power plants) may also contain trace amounts of beryllium (<0.1% by weight).

Inhaling airborne beryllium can cause a lung disease called chronic beryllium disease (CBD). Occupational exposure to beryllium has also been linked to lung cancer. However, CBD is the primary health risk for beryllium workers. In the preamble, OSHA states that there is greater uncertainty regarding the lung cancer risk estimates than for the CBD risk estimates.

Around 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium on the job. Exposures occur when beryllium and beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into the workplace air. Worker exposures to beryllium occur in foundry and smelting operations; fabricating, machining, and grinding beryllium metal and alloys; beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing; and dental lab work.

Workers at coal-fired power plants may encounter beryllium when handling fly ash residue from the coal burning process. Additionally, in the construction and shipyard industries, abrasive blasters and support personnel may be exposed to beryllium from slags. In these operations, significant beryllium exposures may occur because of the high dust levels generated despite the low beryllium content.

Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD), formerly known as "berylliosis," is a chronic granulomatous (inflammatory) lung disease caused by inhalation of airborne beryllium by individuals who have been previously sensitized to beryllium. CBD signs and symptoms can include shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, fever, and night sweats but may take months or years after exposure to beryllium to appear. CBD can continue to progress even after a worker has been removed from exposure. An individual must become sensitized to beryllium before he or she can develop CBD.

Beryllium sensitization is the activation of the body's immune response to beryllium. Beryllium sensitization can result from inhalation or skin exposure to beryllium dust, fume, mist or solutions. While no clinical symptoms are associated with sensitization, a sensitized worker is at risk of developing CBD when inhalation exposure to beryllium has occurred. Beryllium sensitization (BeS) is determined by a test result(s) indicating a person has been identified as having an immunological sensitivity to beryllium.

The new rule lowers the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) and requires that employers use engineering controls - such as ventilation - to reduce workers' exposure to beryllium. Once the full effects of the rule are realized, OSHA expects it to prevent 94 deaths from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of CBD each year.

Need for a Beryllium Rule

OSHA's previous permissible exposure limits (PELs) for beryllium are outdated and inadequate for protecting worker health. The previous PELs were based on older studies that do not reflect more recent scientific evidence showing that low-level exposures to beryllium can cause serious lung disease. In the 45 years since the previous PELs were established, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have all identified beryllium as a human carcinogen. The final rule is expected to reduce the risk of disease among beryllium-exposed workers.

OSHA's new PELs are 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air (μg/m3), as an 8-hour time-weighted average, and 2.0 μg/m3 as determined over a sampling period of 15 minutes. The PELs are the same for all employers covered by the standards (general industry, construction, and shipyards). The new 8-hour TWA PEL represents a ten-fold decrease from the previous PEL.

OSHA established a PEL of 0.2 μg/m3 because the agency determined that occupational exposure to beryllium at the previous PELs resulted in a significant risk of developing CBD or dying from CBD or lung cancer, and that compliance with a 0.2 μg/m3 PEL would substantially reduce that risk.

Impacts on Industry

The beryllium rule applies to occupational exposure to beryllium in all forms, compounds, and mixtures in general industry, construction, and shipyards.

The rule does not apply to articles that contain beryllium and that the employer does not process. OSHA defines an article, under its Hazard Communication standard, as "a manufactured item other than a fluid or particle: (i) which is formed to a specific shape or design during manufacture; (ii) which has end use function(s) dependent in whole or in part upon its shape or design during end use; and (iii) which under normal conditions of use does not release more than very small quantities, e.g., minute or trace amounts of a hazardous chemical, and does not pose a physical hazard or health risk to employees."

The rule also exempts materials containing less than 0.1 percent beryllium by weight if the employer has objective data demonstrating that employee exposure to beryllium will remain below the action level of 0.1 μg/m3, as an 8-hour time weighted average, under any foreseeable conditions.

The main industries affected include:

  • Beryllium Production
  • Beryllium Oxide Ceramics and Composites
  • Nonferrous Foundries
  • Secondary Smelting, Refining, and Alloying
  • Precision Turned Products
  • Copper Rolling, Drawing, and Extruding
  • Fabrication of Beryllium Alloy Products
  • Welding
  • Dental Laboratories
  • Construction and Shipyards (Abrasive blasting with slags)
  • Coal-fired Power Utilities

Approximately 7,300 establishments will be affected, including general industry, construction, and shipyards.

About 62,000 workers will be affected.

The rule is estimated to provide average annual net benefits over the next 60 years of $560.9 million each year. The total annualized cost of the rule is $73.9 million.

The rule is expected to result in annual costs of about $10,100 for the average workplace covered by the rule. The annual cost to a firm with fewer than twenty employees will be less, averaging about $2,600.

OSHA consulted with small businesses through the normal Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) process and as part of its extensive analysis of the impacts on small businesses.

Before issuing its proposed beryllium rule, OSHA convened a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel in accordance with SBREFA. After issuing the proposed rule, OSHA gave members of the public, including small businesses, the opportunity to express their concerns about the rulemaking through written comments, testimony at a public hearing, and submission of data and post-hearing briefs. OSHA considered all information it received from the SBREFA panel, in addition to comments and testimony on the proposed rule, to inform the final rule and evaluate its impacts on small businesses.

OSHA's beryllium standards cover exposures to beryllium in general industry, construction, and shipyards. The standards include an exemption for materials containing less than 0.1 % beryllium by weight but with the qualifier that an employer claiming this exemption must have objective data demonstrating that employee exposure to beryllium will remain below the action level of 0.1 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air (μg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) under any foreseeable conditions. Conditions are foreseeable when they can be reasonably anticipated. Employers can use objective data, based on industry-wide surveys or calculations based on the beryllium content in dust, that represent typical exposures during the employers' operations, to determine if they are covered under the standard.

For example, for coal slag that contains 2 ppm (0.0002 %) beryllium by weight, the final action level of beryllium of 0.1 μg/m3 would be exceeded only when total dust concentrations exceed 50 mg/m3, a level that is over 3 times higher than the current 29 CFR 1910.1000 (Table Z-1-Limits for Air Contaminants) PEL of 15 mg/m3 for PNOC (particles not otherwise classified). In this particular situation, if the employer has objective data that shows that exposures are below the PEL for PNOCs, or even up to 3 times the PEL for PNOCs, then this material would be exempt from the beryllium standards.

Rule Requirements

Employers must use engineering and work practice controls as the primary way keep exposures at or below the PEL.

  • Engineering controls include using process isolation, ventilated enclosures, or local exhaust ventilation to keep beryllium from being dispersed throughout a work area.
  • Examples of work practices to control beryllium exposures include keeping surfaces clean by using a HEPA-filtered vacuum or by wetting down dust before sweeping it up.
  • If engineering and work practice controls cannot keep exposures at or below the PEL, employers must provide respiratory protection to affected employees.

Respirators are not as protective as engineering controls, and they aren't always as practical either. Unless respirators are selected for each worker, individually fitted, periodically refitted, and regularly maintained, and unless filters and other parts are replaced as necessary, workers will not be protected from beryllium exposure. In many cases, workers using only respirators would also have to wear more extensive and expensive protection. Even when respirators are selected, fitted, and maintained correctly, they must be worn consistently and correctly by workers to be effective. Respirators can also be uncomfortable, especially in hot weather, and cannot be used by some workers.

Yes, worker exposures to beryllium at the new PEL, STEL, and action level can be reliably measured using existing sampling and analytical methods.

  • OSHA has carefully reviewed the available scientific literature and expert testimony contained in the rulemaking record on the ability of modern sampling and analytical methods to reliably measure beryllium at the new PEL, STEL, and action level.
  • OSHA and NIOSH methods for analyzing beryllium are able to measure concentrations at the new PEL and action level with acceptable precision.

Objective data means information, such as air monitoring data from industry-wide surveys or calculations based on the composition of a substance, demonstrating airborne exposure to beryllium associated with a particular product or material or a specific process, task, or activity. The data must reflect workplace conditions closely resembling or with a higher airborne exposure potential than the processes, types of material, control methods, work practices, and environmental conditions in the employer's current operations.

Under the beryllium standard for general industry, a beryllium work area is any work area containing a process or operation that can release beryllium where employees are, or can reasonably be expected to be, exposed to airborne beryllium at any level or where there is the potential for dermal contact with beryllium. It is important to note that this definition is narrower than the proposal in a key respect; the airborne beryllium must be generated from a process or operation within that area, and the beryllium work area is the area surrounding the process, operation, or task involving the release of beryllium. This allows employers to establish a demarcated area in which workers and other persons authorized to be in the area are made aware of the potential for beryllium exposure and must take certain precautions accordingly. By controlling the release of airborne beryllium from the particular process, operation, or task, the employer can limit the size of the beryllium work area and eliminate the likelihood of an entire facility becoming a beryllium work area. Beryllium work areas are not required for shipyards or construction.

Dermal contact means there is a reasonable expectation that an employee's skin becomes contaminated with beryllium-containing dust, fumes, mist, or solutions generated from a beryllium process or operation. In a practical sense, keeping beryllium off of skin, out of cuts and wounds and preventing direct transfer of beryllium from the hands to the face and breathing zone are key precautions for beryllium workers.

The purpose of medical surveillance is to:

  • Identify adverse health effects associated with beryllium exposure so that appropriate actions can be taken, including re-evaluating engineering controls or providing medical removal protection benefits.
  • Determine if an employee has been sensitized to beryllium and at risk of developing CBD.
  • Determine the employee's fitness to use respirators.

In response to the information gained through medical surveillance, employees can take actions to improve their health, such as making job choices to reduce exposures, requesting a powered-air purifying respirator for extra protection, or making personal lifestyle or health decisions, such as quitting smoking.

Yes. A CBD Diagnostic Center is any medical facility that has an on-site pulmonary specialist and on-site capability to perform the clinical evaluation necessary to diagnose CBD. In order to qualify as a CBD Diagnostic Center, the medical facility would need to be able to perform a pulmonary function test (as outlined by the American Thoracic Society criteria), perform a bronchoalveolar lavage (lung wash), and perform a transbronchial biopsy. The medical facility would also need to be able to send the lavage fluid samples to a laboratory for analysis within 24 hours of collecting the fluid. The on-site pulmonary specialist would need to be able to interpret the biopsy results, bronchoalveolar lavage diagnostic test results.

OSHA expanded the definition of CBD Diagnostic Center in the recently published beryllium standards to include more facilities across the U.S. by removing some of the more stringent criteria for these facilities, such as the proposed requirement to be able to perform a BeLPT on-site.

No. OSHA only means that a diagnostic center must have the capabilities to perform such tests. The tests to be conducted are to be at the discretion of the examining physician with the permission of the worker.

No. The need for continued referral to a diagnostic center is to be at the discretion of the examining physician(s) in agreement with the worker and employer. A worker may only need to consult a pulmonologist at a local medical facility convenient to the worker.

Under the beryllium standards, the employer is required to keep surfaces in beryllium work areas, materials designated for recycling in general industry, and eating and drinking areas as free as practicable of beryllium. As OSHA explained in a 2003 letter of interpretation concerning the meaning of "as free as practicable", OSHA evaluates whether a surface is "as free as practicable" of a contaminant by the rigor of the employer's program to keep surfaces clean. A sufficient housekeeping program may include a routine cleaning schedule and the use of effective cleaning methods to minimize the possibility of exposure from accumulation of beryllium on surfaces. The intent of the "as-free-as-practicable" requirement is to ensure that accumulations of beryllium dust do not become sources of employee beryllium exposures. Therefore, any method that achieves this end is acceptable. OSHA further intends for this term to be broad and performance-oriented, so as to allow employers in a variety of industries flexibility to decide what type of enclosures (e.g., bags or other containers) are best suited to their workplace and the nature of the beryllium-containing materials they are disposing or designating for reuse outside the facility.

Employers in construction and shipyards are not required to place beryllium-containing or beryllium-contaminated materials in sealed, impermeable enclosures for disposal or reuse by other entities because exposures in those industries come largely from abrasive blasting operations, and it is generally not practical for employers to enclose spent blasting media in sealed, impermeable bags or containers because of the large volume of waste material generated in these operations.

The words "sealed" and "impermeable" are interpreted in terms of the materials in the container. For example, if the material is contaminated with beryllium-containing dust, the container must not allow the escape of the dust under conditions of ordinary handling. If the material includes beryllium-containing liquids, it must not leak. As it relates to the production of beryllium containing metals, transfer in commerce or the handling and processing of scrap metals, OSHA intends that the enclosures selected should not allow the materials they contain to escape under normal conditions of use, storage or transport.

Compliance Dates

  • Employers are required to comply with most of the obligations of the standards by March 12, 2018, one year after the effective date of the standards.
  • Employers must provide the required change rooms and showers beginning on March 11, 2019, two years after the effective date of the standards.
  • Employers are required to implement the engineering controls requirement beginning on March 10, 2020, three years after the effective date of the standards.

State Plans and Compliance Assistance

Yes. States with OSHA-approved State Plans have six months to adopt standards that are at least as effective as Federal OSHA standards. Many State Plans adopt standards identical to OSHA standards, but some State Plans may have different or more stringent requirements. For more information, see the State Plan webpage.

OSHA recognizes that most employers want to keep their employees safe and protect them from workplace hazards. We therefore provide extensive compliance assistance through our Compliance Assistance Specialists, website, publications, webinars, and training programs, many of which are geared toward small and mid-sized employers. For beryllium, OSHA will develop a Small Entity Compliance Guide, fact sheets, and other compliance assistance resources. For more information, see the Beryllium Rulemaking webpage.

OSHA's On-site Consultation Program provides professional, high-quality, individualized assistance to small and medium-sized businesses at no cost. This service, which is provided by consultants from state agencies or universities, is separate and independent from enforcement programs in federal or state OSHA's programs, and provides free and confidential workplace safety and health evaluations and advice to small and medium-sized businesses. In FY 2015, the On-site Consultation Program conducted more than 27,800 free visits to small and medium-sized business worksites, helping to remove more than 3.5 million workers from hazards nationwide.

Additional information about the beryllium rule is available at www.osha.gov/beryllium. The website provides additional information on the hazards of occupational exposure to beryllium with links to fact sheets and an updated beryllium safety and health topics page, and further explains the provisions of the final rule.

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