Beryllium and Beryllium compounds. This multifaceted alkaline earth metal has a unique presence within our economy. Its lightweight, high melting point, high electrical and thermal conductivity, and insolubility is attractive to various industries. Thus making it an important commodity. Beryllium’s outdated standards made it a target for OSHA to update the different standards effecting the general, construction, and shipyard industries.
OSHA’s final rule requires these industries to implement protective measures for exposed workers. Major elements of the final rule include:
new PEL of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air
new STEL of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air
incorporation of engineering and administrative controls
develop written exposure plan
make available medical exams to employees
Even though the final rule targeted all three industries, the general industry standard had a more rigorous update with additional provisions including:
work areas and regulated areas
methods of compliance
personal protective clothing and equipment
hygiene areas and practices
communication of hazards
Furthermore, OSHA’s compliance schedule for enforcement is incremental, allowing time for implementation. Even though regulatory compliance sets the stage for protecting worker exposure, its critical to understand how beryllium’s toxicity can affect workers.
Tiny beryllium particles can stay suspended in the air approximately 10 days. Exposure to this carcinogen can include inhalation, ingestion, or contact dermatitis. Inhalation of beryllium dust or fumes can lead to a lung disease referred to as beryllium disease. There are two types of beryllium disease – acute or chronic.
Acute beryllium disease (ABD) is caused by breathing in high levels of beryllium dust or fumes, which results in an allergic type inflammation reaction (reddening and swelling) of the lungs. ABD can resemble pneumonia. Chronic beryllium disease (CBD) is a sensitization to beryllium where it mimics an allergenic response with subsequent exposure, causing granulomas (nodules) that develop in the lungs; interfering with normal lung function. Although ABD is more rare than CBD, they both can be life threatening conditions.
Beryllium’s complex toxicity can affect each exposed individual drastically different. Is your work environment ready for the updated beryllium standard? Not sure where or how to begin understanding if your work should be concerned with beryllium exposure? Let us help you get started or guide you towards continuing minimizing worker exposure to beryllium.