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Beryllium rule: OSHA seeks to eliminate provisions aimed at construction, shipyard workers

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Beryllium

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Washington – OSHA has issued a proposed rule that would roll back certain provisions of its final rule on worker exposure to beryllium in the construction and shipyard industries.

The final rule, which was published in January and went into effect May 20 after several delays, established lower permissible exposure limits and requirements for exposure assessments, respiratory protection and other features. The proposed rule, published in the June 27 Federal Register, would retain the new PEL of 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air but “is proposing to remove the following ancillary provisions: exposure monitoring, regulated areas (and competent person in construction), a written exposure control plan, protective equipment and work clothing, hygiene areas and practices, housekeeping, medical surveillance, medical removal and worker training,” according to a June 23 press release from the agency.

“OSHA has evidence that exposure in these 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 release states.

Beryllium is a lightweight metal used in industries such as electronics and energy. It can be highly toxic when released into the atmosphere, where workers can inhale it. Exposure can pose serious health risks to workers, including chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer.

OSHA is seeking comment until Aug. 28 on “whether existing standards covering abrasive blasting in construction, abrasive blasting in shipyards, and welding in shipyards provide adequate protection for workers engaged in these operations.”

The agency said it will not enforce the construction and shipyards standards without further notice while determining possible amendments to the rule.

Opponents claim the proposed rule compromises worker safety.

Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, called the measure “a step backwards” in a statement released June 23.

“[OSHA] spent more than a decade on the rulemaking process for the standard that would be severely weakened by the proposal announced today,” Martinez said. “It is well documented that shipyard and construction workers can be exposed to beryllium. They need the same protections as other workers – including monitoring and assessing exposure to potential harm and taking steps to eliminate hazards which can lead to life-threatening diseases.”

After hearing rumors of the proposal, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement on June 21: “More working people will die if the Trump administration rolls back OSHA’s beryllium rule. It also will mark the first time in history for the government to roll back worker safety protections against a cancer-causing toxin. The entire labor movement will work together to fight any proposal that takes away standards that keep us safe at work.”

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