OSHA Issues Direct Final Rule to Clarify General Industry Beryllium Rule
On May 4, 2018, OSHA issued a direct final rule (DFR) clarifying provisions affecting trace amounts of beryllium materials in general industry workplaces. Specifically, the DFR clarifies the definition of beryllium work area and other terms affected by that change.
Following, we take a deeper look at the DFR changes, and how they may affect you and your employees.
Original Concerns with Beryllium Rule
In 2017, OSHA published its final rule on Occupational Exposure to Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds, with separate standards for general industry, shipyards, and construction. Most notably, the final rule established a new permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air (0.2 µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA), as well as an Action Level (AL) of 0.1 µg/m3 and a short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 2.0 µg/m3 over a 15-minute sampling period. It also included provisions to protect employees from exposure to beryllium, such as requirements for exposure assessment, methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, personal protective clothing and equipment, housekeeping, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping.
Following the rule’s publication, stakeholders raised concerns with its definition of beryllium work area as “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.” Many believed that provisions intended to protect workers from skin contact with beryllium-contaminated material could be misinterpreted to apply to materials with trace levels of beryllium.
OSHA agreed this was not the intention of the 2017 rule, and issued the DRF to amend the work area definition and provide additional clarity to other terms this change affected.
New DRF Changes
In addition to clarifying the definitions of Beryllium Work Area, emergency, dermal contact, and beryllium contamination, the DRF also explains provisions for disposal and recycling and provisions that OSHA intends to apply only where skin can be exposed to materials containing at least 0.1 percent beryllium by weight.
The DRF amends the beryllium work area definition as follows:
“Beryllium work area means any work area: (1) Containing a process or operation that can release beryllium and that involves materials that contain at least 0.1% beryllium by weight; and (2) 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.”
Because of the new definition, OSHA notes that it is possible to have a regulated area that is not a beryllium work area, which is a change from the original final beryllium rule. A regulated area is one in which airborne beryllium exposure meets or exceeds the TWA PEL or STEL. This situation would occur when processes involving materials containing less than 0.1% beryllium by weight nevertheless create beryllium exposures at or above the PEL or STEL. The DFR therefore also changes housekeeping provisions to ensure they apply in all regulated areas, even if the processes or operations in these areas involve materials with only trace beryllium, to protect workers from airborne exposure to beryllium.
Unless OSHA receives significant adverse comments by June 4, the DFR will become effective on July 6, 2018.
Beryllium and Hazard Communication
As a reminder, employers covered by the Beryllium standard have an obligation to ensure that beryllium is covered under their HazCom program. This means employers must include beryllium in their hazard communication programs, and ensure that each employee is trained on the hazards of beryllium and has access to updated SDSs and secondary container labels related to it.
Employers must also label each bag and container of clothing, equipment, and materials contaminated with beryllium, and must, at a minimum, include the following on the label:
DANGER CONTAINS BERYLLIUM MAY CAUSE CANCER CAUSES DAMAGE TO LUNGS AVOID CREATING DUST DO NOT GET ON SKIN.
Additional Rules to Come
While the 2017 rule was comprehensive, comprising of separate standards for general industry, shipyards, and construction, the DFR amends only the general industry standard, and does not affect the construction and shipyard standards. OSHA says it will cover trace beryllium materials in the other two sectors in separate rulemakings.
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