With everyone focusing on the coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has quietly moved forward with issuing a final rule on occupational exposures to beryllium and beryllium compounds (collectively “beryllium”) for the general industry. Requirements for occupational exposures to beryllium are currently contained in three separate standards for the general industry (29 CFR 1910.1024), construction (29 CFR 1926.1124), and shipyards (29 CFR 1915.1024) sectors. However, the agency’s beryllium standard and proposed protections for general industry workers has been in flux for some time, as well as modified through revisions to proposed requirements during rulemaking proceedings. But now, OSHA has clarified these protective measures by amending certain requirements for occupational exposures to beryllium in the general industry (29 CFR 1910.1024), while maintaining the health standards previously established for beryllium.  The compliance date of this final rule and resulting general industry requirements is September 14, 2020.

Under the final rule, OSHA maintains that employees’ exposure to beryllium should be limited to a 8-hour time-weighted average (“TWA”) of 0.2 µg/m3 as this permissible exposure limit (“PEL”) will reduce employees risk of health impairment or disease to the greatest extent feasible. OSHA also requires that employers limit employees’ short-term exposure to 2.0 µg/m3 over a 15-minute sampling period (“STEL”) and act to control or minimize beryllium exposures when sampling shows employees have a 0.1 µg/m3 8-hour TWA. The standard also requires specific protections for employees that may be exposed to beryllium while at work.

Like other health standards, OSHA’s final rule requires that employers in the general industry conduct an exposure assessment to identify and evaluate occupational beryllium exposures. Following the assessment, employers must then determine and implement appropriate methods for control, which may include use of engineering controls, respiratory protection, personal protective equipment, and other administrative controls. Employers should include these controls in a written exposure control plan that contemplates management of beryllium work areas, monitoring of control effectiveness, and general housekeeping procedures. Employers may also need to implement medical surveillance programs for employees with exposure to beryllium, paying specific attention to employees that develop a beryllium sensitization as this can lead to chronic beryllium disease.

Finally, general industry employers must ensure proper training and recordkeeping. More specifically, employers must effectively train employees with potential exposures to beryllium on sources of potential exposures and associated exposure hazards and control measures. Employers must also maintain accurate records on their exposure assessments, medical surveillance, and program implementation.

If you have questions or need assistance, please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you often work, or any member of our Workplace Safety and Health Team.