New US Regulation of Beryllium Exposure Will Positively Affect Labour Safety

Beryllium is a lightweight and super-strong metal whose combination of unique properties safeguards its application in various sectors, associated with added value and high technologies. Despite its privileged status, it is characterised by a distinctive degree of toxicity and a capacity to cause chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer. Therefore, limiting its exposure has become a real concern of regulating agencies, trade unions, and corporate sector.

Since beryllium mining and refining is mainly practiced in the USA, this country is a prime developer of occupational rules which describe and regulate beryllium handling.

Top beryllium-producing countries

Among the American state agencies, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the US Department of Labour, in coordination with trade unions (like the United Steelworkers or Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union), businesses, experts and other relevant stakeholders, is responsible for establishing guidelines, regulations and industry standards for occupational exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds. The recent directives, issued by OSHA, revise, streamline and scrutinize some of the rules pertaining to beryllium handing in various industries, specifically in metallurgy (non-ferrous foundries, fabrication of beryllium alloy products, etc.), ceramic production, construction, power generation, dentistry, and maritime industry. The imposed updates primarily refer to reducing the permissible exposure limit for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air (a reduction from 2 micrograms per cubic meter). They also establish a new short-term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Other measures include guidelines for employers to limit beryllium exposure and organize relevant medical checks. The enforcement of these provisions by OSHA began in late 2018. Some beryllium exposure measures, like the implementation of requirements for change rooms and showers, was enforced since March 2019, while general industry requirements for engineering controls will start to be implemented starting from March 2020.

The collaborative and participatory procedure of developing and introducing these beryllium exposure measures is extremely important in dealing with such intricate areas as industrial labour safety legislature. For instance, in April 2018, Materion Corporation, the world’s only fully integrated developer and supplier of beryllium (Be), beryllium alloys and beryllium composites, and OSHA signed a settlement agreement, which simplified and improved compliance with the new standard of beryllium exposure, while maintained a high level of protection for workers. Materion is highly proficient in these matters, and its expertise could be used for multiple benefits. Actually, Materion and the afore-mentioned United Steelworkers were very active in assisting OSHA in developing this new beryllium safety standard.

Find more information on the global beryllium market in the comprehensive research report “Beryllium: 2019 World Market Review and Forecast to 2028”.