For nearly four years, OSHA has attempted to regulate the abrasive blasting industry through the rollout of rules to revise its beryllium standards. On August 28, 2020, OSHA released the much-anticipated final Beryllium Rules for the construction and shipyard sectors.
So what does this announcement mean for you?
First, it is important to understand that OSHA’s rules reach across the abrasive blasting industry as a whole. The new Beryllium Rules will apply to all abrasive blasting operations, regardless of the type of abrasive used, and all blasting materials will be impacted, despite some claims to the contrary.
Let’s take a look at the facts.
Using the most sophisticated testing method available, the ABMA commissioned a study of the chemical contents of crushed glass, garnet, staurolite sand and aluminum oxide used in abrasive blasting. An independent chemical analysis found that all of these materials contain beryllium; therefore, companies that market their abrasives as “beryllium-free” or as having “non-detectable levels of beryllium” are providing inaccurate information.
As abrasive blasters, it is important that our conversations about worker safety be centered on science, not misleading gimmicks or quotes from OSHA that are taken out of context. Scientists and employers alike have a duty to follow the data.
The Beryllium Rules only exempt jobsites where exposures will remain below the extremely low statutory action level (of 0.1 micrograms per cubic meter, averaged over 8 hours) “under any foreseeable conditions.” OSHA has noted that, in addition to the blast media itself, beryllium can be present in the surfaces, coatings and substrates that are blasted.
Because all of the abrasive blast media discussed above contain trace amounts of beryllium, and because beryllium can also be present in the surfaces being blasted, no manufacturer can tell users that their product won’t trigger the action level under any foreseeable conditions. To make such a claim is irresponsible.
The science shows that abrasive blasters are free to choose the best media based on their needs, rather than switch to a lesser material due to fear-mongering about beryllium content.
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Worker safety should always be our number one priority, but keeping everyone informed is the first step to ensuring a safe worksite. Blanket statements from OSHA about specific abrasive materials containing more or less beryllium than other abrasives are irrelevant under these rules and have caused unnecessary confusion in the industry.
Again, a jobsite is only exempt if exposures will remain below the very low action level under any foreseeable conditions, and no manufacturer can guarantee that. This means that the choice of blast media is not affected by the rules, and abrasive blasters remain free to use the media that best serves their job.
OSHA’S BERYLLIUM RULE
Abrasive blasters will be able to continue using the best media based on their needs.
As an organization, the ABMA has made substantial progress educating industry participants and regulators about the potential impact of these rules, but some companies continue to mislead customers about the rules’ impact and the presence of beryllium in various products. Claims that some blasting materials, but not others, will be impacted by the rules are factually inaccurate and disappointing.
With the issuance of these final rules, it is time for the industry to recognize that the Beryllium Rules impact each of us equally and come together to champion sensible regulations that ensure worker health and environmental protection while preserving abrasive blasters’ freedom to operate.
Help the ABMA advance our industry by spreading all of the facts — and none of the fiction. Learn more at theabma.com.