New OSHA Beryllium Final Rule Will Impact Construction and Shipyards

On September 30, OSHA published a final rule representing the latest revisions to its evolving Beryllium Standard. The rule, which is effective immediately, retains the ancillary provisions of OSHA’s beryllium standards for construction and shipyards while setting new compliance deadlines and maintaining current exposure limits for beryllium.

If you’re in the construction or shipyard industries, this final rule affects your business! Let’s take a closer look the rule and its requirements, and discuss some best practices you can use to ensure compliance.

The Background

Beryllium is a metal valued for its high strength-to-weight ratio, excellent thermal stability and conductivity. It is commonly present in materials as either a pure metal, beryllium oxide, or a component of various alloys. Unfortunately, beryllium poses significant exposure hazards for workers, particularly through inhalation of airborne dusts created when beryllium-containing materials are processed. Workplace exposure to beryllium can result in medical conditions such as lung cancer or chronic beryllium disease (CBD), a serious pulmonary condition that can cause debilitating illness or death.

OSHA first established a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for beryllium of 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) in 1971. Over subsequent years, a growing body of scientific evidence has suggested that adverse health effects could occur at exposures lower than the original PEL. OSHA had gone as far as a proposed rulemaking in 1975 that would have reduced the PEL to 1 µg/m3, but was not able to proceed with a final rule. As a result, the original 1971 PEL remained in place until 2017.

In January 2017, OSHA issued a final rule to address growing stakeholder concerns about the need for greater protection of workers from beryllium exposure. The rule created a number of new requirements including a lower PEL of 0.2 µg/m3, and establishment of a short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 2.0 µg/m3 measured over a 15-minute sampling period.

Under the 2017 final rule, employers covered by the beryllium standard also have an obligation to include beryllium in their hazard communication programs – ensuring that each employee is trained on the hazards of beryllium, and has access to updated SDSs and secondary container labels for materials containing beryllium.

The ancillary provisions of the final rule require employers to perform workplace exposure assessments, establish methods to control exposures, provide respiratory protection and other personal protective equipment (PPE) when needed, maintain housekeeping procedures, and provide workers with training specific to beryllium in the workplace. Employers are also required to offer medical surveillance to employees who work under certain conditions, including those who are exposed above the action level (AL) for 30 days in one year, show symptoms of CBD, or are recommended for medical surveillance by a physician or other licensed health care professional (PLHCP).

On June 27, 2017, OSHA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to revoke the ancillary provisions of the beryllium standards for the construction and shipyard industries. The proposal acknowledged that other OSHA standards apply to operations such as abrasive blasting and welding that most commonly create exposures to beryllium in those industries, and sought feedback on whether those existing standards provided adequate protection for workers. While OSHA began enforcing the new PEL and STEL across general industry, construction and shipyards in May 2018, OSHA stated it would not enforce the ancillary provisions in the latter two industries until after it had the opportunity to incorporate feedback received for the NPRM into a new rulemaking.

What Does the Final Rule Do?

OSHA’s new final rule incorporates feedback the agency received following its 2017 NPRM. Drawing on that stakeholder input, the final rule retains all of the ancillary provisions of the beryllium standard for the construction and shipyard industries, and establishes a compliance deadline of September 30, 2020.

The summary of the final rule states, “OSHA finds that other OSHA standards do not duplicate the requirements of the ancillary provisions in the beryllium standards for construction and shipyards in their entirety. Thus revoking all of the ancillary provisions….would be inconsistent with OSHA’s statutory mandate to protect workers from the demonstrated significant risks of material impairment of health resulting from exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds.”

The one exception to the September 30, 2020 compliance date is for enforcement of the new PEL and STEL, which have already been in effect since 2018. The text of the final rule explicitly states that the current exposure limits will remain in effect.

Employers should note that the agency does not appear to be done revising the beryllium standards for the shipyard and construction industries. The final rule states that “OSHA will publish a new proposal for the construction and shipyards beryllium standards in order to seek comment on different changes OSHA is considering.” The goal of the upcoming proposal will be to ensure consistency with the general industry standard.

It’s important to realize, though, that through this final rule, the ancillary provisions of the beryllium standards remain and will go into effect less than one year from this writing.

How Does This Affect Me?

If you are in the shipyard or construction industries, you need to be ready for the September 30, 2020 compliance deadline. So, how should you prepare?

You should have a solid understanding of your operations, and where exposures to beryllium and beryllium compounds are likely to occur. To do this, you first need to identify which materials used at your facility contain beryllium, and that requires ingredient-level oversight of the chemicals in your workplace. VelocityEHS’ award-winning MSDSonline chemical and SDS management solutions make that task much easier by allowing you to automatically flag products in your chemical inventory that contain beryllium and quickly reference relevant exposure information. We can also help you meet any Hazard Communication requirements contained in OSHA’s beryllium standard by ensuring your employees have rapid, ready access to GHS-formatted SDSs and labels. In addition, our On-Demand Training solutions make it easy to provide workers with detailed safety training and information on the risks of exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds in your workplace.

Once you’ve identified where beryllium is used in the workplace, the nature of work being performed, the frequency of job tasks and the engineering controls (if any) that are in place, you’ll need to develop an exposure monitoring plan as part of your workplace industrial hygiene (IH) program. You’ll also need to determine which of your employees must be included in your monitoring plan, and establish Similar Exposure Groups (SEGs). SEGs are groups of employees who have similar exposure patterns and levels based on their job tasks, frequency and duration of exposure, and similar use of controls such as PPE. The use of SEGs helps to better coordinate your sampling and monitoring activities, while also minimizing the amount of sampling you must ultimately perform and helping to reduce employers’ compliance burden. From there, you can then identify the appropriate sampling and analytical methods, contract with laboratories that can perform the analytical work, review and interpret your analytical results, and take appropriate corrective actions to reduce exposures. Sounds like a lot to do, right?

This is another area where the value of VelocityEHS solutions truly shine. Whether you’re a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) or totally new to IH program management, VelocityEHS IH software is purpose-built to make IH program management quick and easy. It’s a simple, all-in-one platform for managing every aspect of a robust IH program, with tools for sample data management and reporting, equipment tracking and maintenance, SEG and medical surveillance management, chemical and OEL referencing, and streamlined laboratory data entry.

With your sampling results in-hand, you’ll then need to compare them against the revised OSHA PEL or STEL for beryllium. You’ll also need to share sampling results with affected employees, as well as anyone on your team you’ll need to coordinate with for follow-up actions. Our IH solution streamlines that process by automatically flagging sample results over the exposure limits, and allowing you to maintain all of your sampling results in one centralized location.

Our IH solution also makes training easier through its reporting tools, which enable you to share details of your IH sampling program with your workforce and give them the kind of specific training on your chemical hazards and exposure assessments you need to promote the success of your IH program. With better access to your results, you’ll also be able to more quickly take corrective actions such as selection of engineering controls, refinements to your exposure plans and selection of PPE.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to start getting a handle on your obligations! With the right tools in place, you’ll be ready for the September 30, 2020 deadline while ensuring the safety of your workplace.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

Our award-winning MSDSonline HQ and HQ RegXR Accounts provide 24/7 mobile-enabled, employee right-to-know access to the industry’s leading database of SDSs, and feature built-in GHS workplace labeling capabilities. Available ingredient indexing features mean you’ll be able to identify all products containing beryllium in your inventory, and be well-prepared to begin assessing employee exposure levels as required under the beryllium standard.

If you’re looking for an easier way to manage the significant IH aspects of the beryllium standards, we can help you there, too. Our IH solution makes it simple to plan and manage your sampling program, keep all of your stakeholders in the loop, and put actionable knowledge at your fingertips to help ensure compliance with OSHA’s beryllium standards.

Contact us today, and learn how we can help you reach your EHS goals faster and build a safer, more sustainable workplace.