Blasting and Beryllium: New Standards for Safety

blastingBeryllium, a metal that is stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum, has been an essential component in many construction projects, however it poses specific risks to workers who are exposed to blasting this material. The high dust conditions combined with a lack of personal protection equipment has led OSHA to recently issue a final rule to prevent chronic beryllium disease and the lung risks that may result from exposure to the dust.

According to OSHA, about 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium in their workplaces, including approximately 11,500 construction workers who may conduct abrasive blasting operations using slags that contain trace amounts of beryllium.

Ventilation and personal protective equipment are key safety measures when working around beryllium, but it is always good practice to know the standards of OSHA’s final rule, including:

  • Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over 8-hours.
  • Establishes a new short term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period.
  • Requires employers to: use engineering and work practice controls (such as ventilation or enclosure) to limit worker exposure to beryllium; provide respirators when controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high-exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan; and train workers on beryllium hazards.
  • Requires employers to make available medical exams to monitor exposed workers and provides medical removal protection benefits to workers identified with a beryllium-related disease.

All three standards contained in the final rule take effect on March 10, 2017, after which all three industry sectors have one year (March 12, 2018) to comply with most of the requirements. All sectors have two years (March 11, 2019) from the effective date to provide any required change rooms and showers and three years (March 10, 2020) from the effective date to implement engineering controls.

OSHA estimates that the rule will save 94 lives from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease each year. For more information, contact our offices at Diversified Safety Services.

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