OSHA Considers Setting Limits on Construction-Related Beryllium Exposure

January 9, 2014- Efforts to reduce toxic metal exposure are again making news. "Lowering just the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for the toxic metal beryllium in the construction sector is one option being considered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as publication of a proposed rule on general beryllium exposure nears," said Tiffany DeFoe, an OSHA health scientist in the agency’s office of chemical hazards. DeFoe was quoted in a recent report on the Society for Human Resource Management's SHRM.org website.

DeFoe previewed the range of options OSHA is weighing for its construction industry advisory committee. In their article, "OSHA Considers PEL Revision Only for Beryllium Rule in Construction," SHRM says OSHA may lower the exposure limit for beryllium in construction from 2 micrograms per cubic meter down to anywhere from 1 microgram per cubic meter to 0.1 microgram per cubic meter. The United Steelworkers and the largest beryllium manufacturer in the country, Materion Brush, support a 0.2 microgram limit.

The Center for Construction Research and Training, an arm of the AFL-CIO, recommends that employers test for airborne beryllium exposure if there is any risk present, and substitute alternative product for any containing beryllium, if possible. The center also suggests that businesses provide exhaust ventilation and the proper respirators and gloves.

According to DeFoe, OSHA is also considering introducing a short-term exposure limit “to get some of those very high exposures under control.” Another option the agency is mulling over is extending medical surveillance to the construction industry, including physical screening, testing for beryllium sensitization, and CT scans to detect lung cancer, DeFoe said.

The proposed rules on beryllium exposure in general industry, scheduled to be issued in April 2014, will likely differ from the construction standard. "We feel that many of the provisions of the [general industry] rule may not be feasible or effective in a construction setting where we think it’s mainly abrasive-blasting workers who may be exposed," DeFoe explained.

"Existing OSHA construction standards safeguard workers from beryllium exposure by mandating that they use respiratory protection and personal protective clothing, but OSHA is still concerned about the health risks of chronic beryllium disease (CBD) and lung cancer," DeFoe said. CBD is a scarring of the lungs that can cause coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue.  

Read the full SHRM.org post here. 

Carnow Conibear and Associates is a demonstrated leader in the occupational and environmental health professions since 1975. To find out more, click here or call us at (800) 860-4486.