Cashins & Associates Blog

Health and Safety: Beryllium

Posted by William Henderson on Tue, Feb, 28, 2017 @ 17:02 PM

Beryllium.jpgDo you work in the electronics, energy, telecommunications, medical, aerospace, or defense industry? Because the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has finalized a new rule to reduce worker’s exposure to beryllium and help prevent beryllium diseases and lung cancer. This health and safety rule will apply to workers in the construction, shipyards and general industries and updates a forty year old Permissible Exposure Limit.

What is Beryllium

Beryllium is a lightweight metal and its high heat resistance and mechanical properties make it very useful for structural components in the aerospace industry. It’s the ideal metal for missiles, high-speed aircraft, and even spacecraft and satellites. Combining a small amount of beryllium with copper forms an alloy of beryllium copper that is six times stronger than copper alone.

Health Effects

Exposure to beryllium can lead to acute and chronic beryllium disease. Today, acute beryllium disease is rare, since most modern work places have work practices and engineering controls that prevent large amounts of beryllium from being released into the air that would be required to cause acute beryllium disease. Chronic beryllium disease associated with short or long term inhalation of beryllium powder or fumes is still occurring in work places. About ten percent of people working with beryllium will develop a sensitization similar to an allergy to beryllium. Approximately half of those sensitized will develop Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD).

When a person develops CBD, inflammation occurs in the lungs. As the human immune system reacts to beryllium, granulomas form. Granulomas are collections of immune cells that fail to eliminate the beryllium and result in scarring of the lung tissue. As time progresses more scarring occurs, reducing the lungs ability to function properly. The results can be joint pain, weight loss, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and coughing.

Beryllium is also classified as a Group 1 – Carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and as an A1 – Confirmed human carcinogen by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). This means there is sufficient evidence to conclude that this substance causes cancer in humans.

Number of Effected Employees

Approximately 62,000 workers are exposed to Beryllium in the United States work force across 7,300 workplaces. Of this number 11,500 are in the construction and shipyard industry with the majority in general industry.

Following the full effects of the implementation of this rule, OSHA estimates that 90 lives will be saved from beryllium-related diseases and it will prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease each year.

Key Provisions

The key provisions to the revised standard are:

  •  Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over 8-hours.
  •  Establishes a new short term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period.
  • Requires employers to: use engineering and work practice controls (such as ventilation or enclosure) to limit worker exposure to beryllium; provide respirators when controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high-exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan; and train workers on beryllium hazards.
  • Requires employers to make available medical exams to monitor exposed workers and provides medical removal protection benefits to workers identified with a beryllium-related disease.

Compliance Schedule

The final rule takes effect on March 21, 2017. General industry, construction and shipyards have one year to comply with most of the standard (March 12, 2018). Industries have two years to provide change rooms and showers and three years to implement engineering controls.

If you would like to learn more about the beryllium standard or have questions about exposure monitoring or help developing training, please contact Cashins & Associates today. Click the button below and submit your request now!

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