OSHA Proposes Modifications to Beryllium Standards for Construction, Shipyards
OSHA issued a proposed rule in June that would modify standards for occupational exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds in construction and shipyards. These standards were just published in January as part of the agency’s final beryllium rule. The agency’s new proposal would revise the application of ancillary provisions such as housekeeping and personal protective equipment for the construction and shipyard industries, but maintain the reduced permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium of 0.2 μg/m3 averaged over eight hours, an exposure limit that replaced the previous decades-old PEL of 2 μg/m3. The proposal would also maintain the new short-term exposure limit (STEL) for beryllium of 2 μg/m3 over a 15-minute sampling period. Exposure to particles, fumes, and mists from beryllium-containing materials can cause chronic beryllium disease (CBD), a potentially fatal respiratory disease. “OSHA has evidence that exposure in [the maritime and construction] industries is limited to a few operations and has information suggesting that requiring the ancillary provisions broadly may not improve worker protection and be redundant with overlapping protections in other standards,” the agency stated in a press release. According to OSHA, evidence shows that beryllium exposure in construction and shipyards is limited to abrasive blasting in both sectors and welding in shipyards. Existing OSHA standards on ventilation and mechanical paint removers already apply to these operations. The agency seeks comments on whether these existing standards provide adequate protection for workers engaged in these operations. OSHA’s proposal will also give stakeholders an additional opportunity to comment on the protections needed for workers exposed to beryllium in construction and shipyards, including the need for the ancillary provisions published in the January 2017 beryllium final rule. The new proposal does not affect the general industry standard for beryllium.
The United Steelworkers (USW), the union that represents many of the workers who handle beryllium, condemned the proposal. “Under the proposal . . . employers [in the maritime and construction industries] would no longer have to measure beryllium levels in the workplace or provide medical testing to workers at risk of fatal lung disease,” USW said in a press release. “In addition, workers would not have the right to wear protective clothing or to shower at the end of the work shift, making it possible for beryllium to be taken home and exposed to spouses and children.” USW was instrumental in crafting OSHA’s beryllium rule. The union worked with Materion, one of two companies in the United States that manufactures beryllium, to develop a model beryllium standard. Former OSHA director David Michaels credited this “historic collaboration between industry and labor” for providing momentum for the agency’s beryllium standard, and OSHA incorporated much of the model into its final beryllium rule, which went into effect on May 20, 2017. Compliance obligations do not begin until March 2018. OSHA says it will not enforce the construction and shipyard standards of the new beryllium rule without further notice while this new rulemaking is underway. Further details on OSHA’s proposal and information on submitting comments are available in the
Federal Register
. To read OSHA’s press release, visit the agency's
. USW’s press release can be found in the organization's online
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OSHA says it will not enforce the construction and shipyard standards of the new beryllium rule while this new rulemaking is underway.