by Phillip C. Fincher, CIH, CSP
Senior Vice President

OSHA lowered the permissible exposure limit (PEL)  for Beryllium in General Industry from 2 µg/m3 to 0.2 µg/m3 in 2020. The rule requires employers to measure workers’ exposures to beryllium, limit their access to areas where exposures exceed the PEL, implement controls for reducing exposures, and train workers about beryllium-related hazards. Although most employers have performed surveys to evaluate beryllium exposures, I would encourage them to re-evaluate their exposure data to ensure that the sampling and analytical method used for the survey has a sufficiently low limit of detection (LOD) to ensure that values reported as below the LOD are below the PEL.  There have been numerous improvements in analytical methods to reduce the limit of quantitation (LOQ) and LOD.    A professional industrial hygienist should be consulted to review historical data and accurately evaluate employee exposures to beryllium and other airborne chemical hazards.  An industrial hygienist will also be able to assist employers with the selection of feasible engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE).    If employers are limited to the use of respiratory protection they must ensure that they have a respiratory protection program as specified in OSHA Standard 1910.134 for Respiratory Protection.

Exposure to beryllium mist, dust, and fumes can cause chronic beryllium disease (CBD), which scars lung tissue and impairs the lungs’ ability to get oxygen to the bloodstream.

Beryllium, a naturally occurring element, has applications in many industries, including electronics, aerospace, and metals manufacturing. According to OSHA, the majority of current worker exposures to beryllium occur in operations such as foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics and composites manufacturing and dental lab work. The agency is seeking comment during the rulemaking process on whether these workers in coal-burning power plants and aluminum production facilities, and those performing abrasive blasting work with coal slag in the construction and shipyards industries should also be covered by the final rule.