The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will start enforcement of the final rule on occupational exposure to beryllium in general, construction, and shipyard industries on May 11, 2018.
This timeframe will ensure that stakeholders are aware of their obligations, and that OSHA provides consistent instructions to its inspectors, OSHA says. The start of enforcement had previously been set for March 12, 2018.
In January 2017, OSHA issued new comprehensive health standards addressing exposure to beryllium in all industries. In response to feedback from stakeholders, the agency is considering technical updates to the January 2017 general industry standard, which will clarify and simplify compliance with requirements.
OSHA will also begin enforcing on May 11, 2018, the new lower 8-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) and short-term (15-minute) exposure limit (STEL) for construction and shipyard industries. In the interim, if an employer fails to meet the new PEL or STEL, OSHA will inform the employer of the exposure levels and offer assistance to assure understanding and compliance.
OSHA says approximately 62,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in about 7,300 companies in the United States.
Workers who inhale airborne beryllium in the workplace can develop a lung condition called chronic beryllium disease, or CBD. Occupational exposure to beryllium has also been linked to lung cancer. In construction, exposure to beryllium is possible for welders, abrasive blasters, metal fabricators, metals recycling, and roofers.
The most common health effects associated with overexposure to beryllium in the workplace include:
Chronic Beryllium Disease - CBD is a chronic granulomatous lung disease caused by inhaling airborne beryllium after becoming sensitized to beryllium. 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.
The common symptoms of CBD are shortness of breath, unexplained coughing, fatigue, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. CBD can result from inhalation exposure to beryllium at levels below the current OSHA PEL (0.2 μg/m3). CBD can progress to a chronic obstructive lung disorder, resulting in loss of quality of life and the potential for decreased life expectancy.
Lung cancer - Based on numerous studies in occupational settings, OSHA has determined that occupational exposure to beryllium causes lung cancer in humans. In addition, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies beryllium as a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans), and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) lists beryllium as a known human carcinogen.