Beryllium. When I hear this word, it takes me right back to chemistry class and the good old periodic table. But what is it exactly? And why is OSHA enforcing new safety standards around it?
Beryllium is a metal that is much stronger than steel but lighter than aluminum. It’s widely used as an alloy with other more common metals due to these characteristics and the fact that it has one of the highest melting points of the “light” metals. Additionally, it has great thermal conductivity and stability. Quite the super metal! So, you can see why in 2014 the U.S. produced 270 metric tons of Beryllium domestically and imported 68 metric tons, according to OSHA.
But if it’s so great, why is it dangerous? Despite its appealing attributes, Beryllium is incredibly toxic. Workers can be exposed to it by inhaling particle dust or through physical contact. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure can cause Beryllium Sensitization, Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD), lung cancer, Acute Beryllium Disease (ABC), and skin diseases. OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers in the United States are potentially exposed to Beryllium in roughly 7,300 establishments.
Occupations with Potential Exposure to Beryllium1
- Primary Beryllium Production Workers
- Workers Processing Beryllium Metal/Alloys/Composites
- Foundry Workers
- Furnace Tenders
- Machine Operators
- Metal Fabricators
- Dental Technicians
- Secondary Smelting and Refining
- Recycling electronic and computer parts
So why the change now? It was determined that OSHA’s original permissible exposure limit was outdated and ineffective to prevent diseases associated with this element. The catalyst for the enforcement is due to a consensus in the scientific community that there needs to be more protective measures in place. The original compliance date of March 12, 2018 has been currently extended to May 11th, 2018. The new rule is codified in three standards, General Industry, Construction, and Shipyard.
Hopefully now you have a better understanding of what Beryllium is, where it’s used, and the occupations that are potentially affected by it. Most importantly, that it is very toxic and protective measures need to be taken when working with and around it. The best resource for up-to-date information on the new standard can be obtained by clicking on the OSHA Beryllium home page link below. Stay safe, everyone!
For more information, check out these great resources from OSHA:
Click here to check out our safety courses!
1. “UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, www.osha.gov/SLTC/beryllium/index.html.