OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
March 24, 2005
Contact: Bill Wright
Phone: (202) 693-1999
Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA
Pilot Beryllium Medical Monitoring Program
WASHINGTON -- Jonathan L. Snare, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), released the following statement regarding the agency's pilot beryllium and medical monitoring program:
"OSHA's mission is to ensure the safety and health of all workers, including our own employees. In furtherance of that mission, we are announcing results of a pilot program to test compliance safety and health officers (CSHO) for sensitization to beryllium.
"As of March 15, 2005, 302 OSHA employees requested testing for beryllium sensitization; 271 of those tests have been completed, while 31 who initially expressed interest have yet to take steps to schedule their appointments. Ten employees, or 3.7 percent of those tested, have tested positive for sensitization to beryllium. A positive test shows a sensitization to beryllium, but it does not imply that one has, or will develop, chronic beryllium disease. The test results also don't tell us whether those who tested 'positive' developed that sensitization during their employment with OSHA.
"All tested personnel were informed of their individual results as soon as they were received. Individuals who tested 'positive' received in-depth counseling from OSHA's Office of Occupational Medicine regarding further medical evaluation and other issues such as workers' compensation rights and procedures. Also, the agency follows procedures established in the CSHO Medical Examination program on appropriate work accommodations.
"In early 2000, OSHA began investigating the need to supplement our CSHO Medical Examination Program with beryllium medical monitoring. Subsequently, work on a pilot beryllium medical monitoring program was begun and efforts were undertaken to develop the program. As part of this effort, OSHA conducted extensive education and outreach to our compliance officers. Upon completion of these preparations, the pilot program was implemented in April 2004.
"We will continue our longstanding policy to protect and monitor the health of our compliance staff. The pilot program will continue for any additional employees who would like to take advantage of the testing."
(NOTE: A fact sheet on beryllium and the OSHA Beryllium Medical Monitoring Program follows this statement).
Beryllium is a metal found in nature, particularly as a component of coal, oil, certain rock minerals, volcanic dust, and soil. Extremely lightweight and hard, it's nonmagnetic and a good conductor of electricity and heat. The metal has applications in the aerospace, nuclear, and manufacturing industries and can be found in metal working, ceramic manufacturing, electronic applications, laboratory work, dental alloys, and sporting goods. Adverse health effects of exposure are caused by the body's immune system reacting with the metal, resulting in an allergic-type response. Beryllium can cause lung and skin disease.
In 2000, OSHA's Office of Occupational Medicine (OOM) in the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Medicine (DSTM) began investigating the need to provide a Beryllium Medical Monitoring Program to supplement the existing Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) Medical Examination Program. A pilot beryllium medical monitoring program was developed that designated eligibility for participating in the medical monitoring plan. Further efforts were undertaken to develop this testing program. After completion of these preparations, the Agency implemented the program in April 2004. Initial testing began in August 2004 following extensive education and outreach efforts to our compliance officers. OSHA offered voluntary testing to personnel who may have had potential exposure to beryllium in the course of their work. OSHA did not set a specific exposure level to qualify for testing; the protocol was designed so all concerned employees could be tested.
The monitoring program began with information to OSHA inspectors about beryllium testing in an agency-wide Web cast. Local training programs were provided by regional and area offices. The agency produced and distributed informational brochures covering a variety of issues related to the health effects of beryllium exposure.
Thirty-one staff of the initial 302 who initially expressed interest in the test have not yet arranged to have their blood drawn. The agency continues to offer the testing to them and to other eligible employees who originally chose not to participate.
OSHA Inspections Involving Beryllium
Since 1984, OSHA has conducted approximately 4,000 inspections in which sampling for beryllium was conducted. Of 13,407 air samples taken in those inspections, 147 of those (1.1%) exceeded OSHA's current permissible exposure limit (not more than 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air for an 8-hour time-weighted average or not more than 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air for more than 30 minutes). These sample results are different from the exposures that OSHA compliance officers may experience during an inspection for a number of reasons (e.g., time spent in the same areas as the workers, use of personal protective equipment, etc.).
Protection of OSHA Personnel
Guidance on how OSHA compliance officers must prepare for workplace inspections, and requirements for how they identify and wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), is addressed in CSHO training courses, OSHA's Field Inspection Reference Manual, and in directives that address inspection procedures for specific hazards. OSHA policy requires that CSHOs use appropriate PPE when the possibility exists of being exposed to a hazard. That same policy requires OSHA personnel to stay out of such areas if they are not adequately protected by the use of appropriate PPE. Appropriate PPE for hazards such as beryllium is respiratory, head, eye, face, and foot and hand protection.
The Beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Test (BeLPT)
The BeLPT is a laboratory blood test that examines how a type of disease -- fighting blood cell in one's body -- lymphocytes-reacts to beryllium. It determines sensitization to the metal. Prior to implementation of the pilot program, the BeLPT was provided to OSHA staff on a case-by-case basis for concerns about potential exposures.
If a blood sample was reactive, a confirmation test with two specimens from two separate labs was required. If both of those samples were non-reactive, the agency will repeat in one year or if symptoms develop. If at least one of the confirmation tests was reactive, the sample is confirmed positive for sensitization.
OSHA Bulletins and Publications Related to Beryllium
Various publications on the subject can be found on a Beryllium safety and health topics page on the agency's website.
OSHA is presently evaluating whether changes need to be made to current protections against beryllium exposure. The issue is listed in the Department of Labor's Semiannual Regulatory Agenda (Dec. 13, 2004). The next step in the process is initiating a small business panel (required under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act) to determine impacts of rulemaking on small businesses.
This news release text is on the Internet at http://www.osha.gov. Information on this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (202) 693-1999.
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