DOL-OSHA-DEP-OHE-2020-002 - This document does not have the force and effect of law and is not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.
September 28, 2020
Mr. John DeZee
Century Aluminum Company
1 South Wacker Drive, Suite 1000
Chicago, IL 60606
Dear Mr. DeZee:
You ask whether permitting employees to periodically consume hydrating liquids and solids in areas other than designated break rooms in your aluminum smelting facilities would render those areas “eating and drinking areas” under paragraph (i)(4) of OSHA’s Beryllium standard (29 CFR § 1910.1024). This letter provides OSHA’s interpretation only of the requirements herein, and may not be applicable to any questions not delineated within your original correspondence, such as whether the activities described would be permissible under other OSHA requirements. Your paraphrased question and our response are below.
Background: You state that concentrations of beryllium in the materials that you process, and in the dust present in your facilities, are significantly below 0.1 percent (0.1%) beryllium by weight. You further state that because aluminum smelters are extremely hot workplaces, and that temperatures in some parts, e.g., potrooms, can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit indoors during the hottest summer days, you encourage employees to intermittently and briefly consume water, electrolyte drinks, and popsicles in those areas to prevent heat-related illness. You state that the bottles and cups from which workers drink hydrating fluids are stored in refrigerators, coolers, or plastic wrapping, that water is dispensed from coolers on a cart, and that popsicles and other hydrating solids are also stored in coolers. As a result, you state that dust accumulation on these items prior to their use is minimal to nonexistent, and that any dust that did accumulate would contain significantly less than 0.1% beryllium by weight.
Question: Would the areas of our facilities other than designated break rooms, which work with materials and dusts containing less than 0.1% beryllium by weight, be considered “eating and drinking areas” under paragraph 29 CFR § 1910.1024(i)(4) of the Beryllium standard if employees consume hydrating liquids and solids in those areas to prevent heat-related illness?
Response: At worksites where beryllium is present, the Beryllium standard requires employers to implement measures in eating and drinking areas to minimize the possibility that employees will be exposed to beryllium due to their ingestion of, or dermal contact with, beryllium- contaminated food and drink (29 CFR § 1910.1024(i)(4)). Specifically, the Beryllium standard requires that beryllium-contaminated surfaces in eating and drinking areas be kept as free of beryllium as practicable (29 CFR § 1910.1024(i)(4)(i)), and that no employees enter any eating or drinking area with beryllium-contaminated personal protective clothing or equipment unless, prior to entry, it is cleaned, as necessary, to be as free as practicable of beryllium (29 CFR § 1910.1024(i)(4)(ii)). The Beryllium standard defines “beryllium-contaminated” as “contaminated with dust … containing beryllium in concentrations greater than or equal to 0.1 percent by weight” (29 CFR § 1910.1024(b)).
The Beryllium standard establishes that employees have “dermal contact with beryllium” when their skin is exposed to soluble beryllium compounds, solutions, dust, fumes, or mists, any of which contain beryllium in concentrations greater than or equal to 0.1% by weight (29 CFR § 1910.1024(b)). The standard also regulates employee exposure to airborne beryllium by establishing a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air (0.2 µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA), and 2.0 µg/m3 as a short-term exposure limit (STEL) determined over a sampling period of 15 minutes (29 CFR § 1910.1024(c)(1)-(2); see 29 CFR § 1910.1000, Table Z-1).
If you allow employees to consume food and beverages in areas other than designated break rooms at facilities at which beryllium is present, those areas would also be considered “eating and drinking areas” under the Beryllium standard. However, because you stated in your letter that the dust in your facilities contains less than 0.1% beryllium by weight, neither the surfaces in the areas you identified, nor the personal protective clothing or equipment used in those areas, would meet the definition of “beryllium-contaminated” in the Beryllium standard. Thus, under the specific circumstances that you described in your letter, you would not be in violation of sections 29 CFR § 1910.1024(i)(4)(i)-(ii).
The Beryllium standard also requires that employer-provided eating and drinking facilities comply with OSHA’s Sanitation standard, 29 CFR § 1910.141 (29 CFR § 1910.1024(i)(4)(iii)). The Sanitation standard states that “[n]o employee shall be allowed to consume food or beverages ... in any area exposed to a toxic material” (29 CFR § 1910.141(g)(2)), and defines “toxic material” as “a material in concentration or amount, which exceeds the applicable limit established by a standard, such as [29 CFR] §§ 1910.1000 and 1910.1001 ...” (29 CFR § 1910.141(a)(2)). As OSHA explained in a previously-issued letter of interpretation, 29 CFR § 1910.141(g)(2) prohibits consumption of food and beverages in locations where there is reasonable probability that a significant quantity of toxic material could be ingested and subsequently absorbed (see Letter to Mr. Michael W. Vasta (enclosed)). If the dust in these areas of your facilities contains less than 0.1% beryllium by weight (not enough to cause “dermal contact with beryllium”), and airborne exposures to beryllium remain below the TWA PEL and STEL, then the amount of beryllium in those areas would not be high enough to be considered a “toxic material” under the Sanitation standard. Allowing employees to hydrate in such areas would therefore not violate paragraph 29 CFR § 1910.141(g)(2) of the Sanitation standard.
Moreover, by limiting employees’ consumption of food and beverages to periodic and brief hydration with water, electrolyte drinks, and popsicles, and adopting practices for storing bottles, cups, and popsicles that prevent dust from accumulating on those items prior to their use, you have further minimized the risk that employees could ingest or handle beryllium-contaminated food or drink.
Additional information regarding OSHA’s Beryllium standard is available at www.osha.gov/berylliumrule. OSHA also provides compliance assistance resources to help employers, particularly small businesses, meet the requirements of the final rule. For compliance assistance, please contact a compliance assistance specialist at www.osha.gov/complianceassistance/cas, or visit OSHA’s compliance assistance webpage at www.osha.gov/employers. In addition, employers and employees can call (800) 321-OSHA (toll-free) for workplace safety and health information or assistance 24 hours a day.
Additionally, based on your representation of the excessive peak levels of heat possible in your facility, a comprehensive heat program is critical to prevent heat related illnesses in affected workers. Hydration is only one part of a comprehensive program. In addition to hydration, a heat illness prevention program should include, but not be limited to, rest breaks, acclimatization, and training on heat illness prevention. Rest breaks offer the ideal opportunity for employees to hydrate while they lower their body temperature away from the excessive heat. Additional information on heat-related illnesses can be found on OSHA’s safety and health topics webpage on occupational heat exposure at www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA's requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our letters of interpretation do not create new or additional requirements but rather explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. From time to time, letters are affected when the agency updates a standard, a legal decision impacts a standard, or changes in technology affect the interpretation. To ensure that you are using the correct information and guidance, please consult OSHA's website at www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.
Patrick J. Kapust, Acting Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs