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OSHA Proposes Beryllium Rule Delay

Monday, March 6, 2017

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Federal workplace-safety officials have proposed pushing back the effective date for a new rule on exposure to beryllium, citing a presidential memorandum calling for a temporary freeze on new regulations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Wednesday (March 1) that it hopes to postpone the effective date for its final rule entitled “Occupational Exposure to Beryllium,” to May 20. The proposal was published Thursday (March 2) in the Federal Register.

Blasting operation

The rule points out that some abrasives used in blasting contain trace amounts of beryllium that, in blasting operations, could potentially exceed the action level.

The effective date was originally scheduled for March 10, but was delayed until March 21 shortly after President Donald J. Trump took office, in response to the “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review” memorandum issued by Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

In Wednesday’s press release, the agency said that during the initial review process, “OSHA has preliminarily determined that it is appropriate to further delay the effective date to May 20, 2017, for the purpose of additional review into questions of law and policy.”

Beryllium is a component of coal, certain rock materials, volcanic dust and soil used in several industrial applications. Breathing air containing beryllium can deposit beryllium particles in the lungs, presenting immune-system and respiratory risks. Beryllium is a known human carcinogen and can cause chronic lung disease.

New Limits

The new beryllium rule reduces the eight-hour permissible exposure limit for airborne beryllium from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter, a limit that applies to all industries. It also establishes a short-term exposure limit or 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period.

Reince Priebus
Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The effective date was delayed in response to the “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review” memorandum issued by President Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

For the construction and maritime industries, the rule applies when materials being used contain greater than 0.1 percent beryllium by weight. Employers using materials with a lesser beryllium content are exempt, “if the employer has objective data demonstrating that employee exposure to beryllium will remain below the action level of 0.1 μg/m3, as an eight-hour time weighted average, under any foreseeable conditions.”

The rule points out that some abrasives used in blasting contain trace amounts of beryllium that, in blasting operations, could potentially exceed the action level. The OSHA website’s frequently-asked-questions section on the rule addresses materials with trace amounts of beryllium, offering some guidance on how employers can determine whether their operations might exceed the action level for beryllium.

Compliance Dates Remain the Same

The proposed delay does not, as it stands, affect compliance dates for the new rule. Compliance dates for most aspects of the rule remain at one year from the original effective date, in this case, March 12, 2018, according to OSHA. Parts of the rule that require changes like change rooms, showers and engineering controls have compliance dates up to three years after the original effective date.

The delay is not official yet, and is subject to public comment. The comment period extends until March 13. Comments can be submitted via, the government’s electronic rulemaking portal, or via mail. Mailing instructions are available here.

Industry Response

The Abrasive Blasting Manufacturers Alliance, which petitioned OSHA not to apply the new rule to the construction and maritime industries, applauded the move to delay its effective date.

“As written, the rule unnecessarily impacts all abrasive blasting media, despite the fact that beryllium exposure has not caused a single incidence of harm in the history of our industry," said the ABMA's Mark Mummert. "Moving forward, we will continue to call on OSHA to remove construction and maritime settings from the scope of the beryllium rule and focus on the rule’s original intent: regulating human exposure to beryllium alloy manufacturing.”

The United Steelworkers, which represents shipyard workers in addition to workers in other industries who deal with beryllium, worked closely with OSHA and beryllium supplier Materion Brush Inc. on the creation of the rule.

Michael J. Wright, director of Safety, Health and Environment for USW, says the union is looking at the delay as temporary. 

"We frankly don't think it's necessary, but we're assuming that the delay is benign," Wright told PaintSquare News. Wright said he understands the extra time will be used to create further educational materials and to make "some very minor changes in the rule," which he says is "routinely done."

"We're also being vigilant against further delay, or delay of the compliance date," Wright said.

The USW, which represents workers at Newport News Shipbuilding, the country's largest shipyard, is in favor of the rule applying to the maritime and construction industries, Wright said. He said that abrasives that contain trace amounts of beryllium can be used safely, but proper protection must be used.

"We believe it's possible to use these slags safely," he said. "You can use personal protection, and you can arrange the blasting operation so that people outside the operation don't inhale the dust."

He also noted that if the maritime and construction industries were not covered by the new rule, the union would seek to bar those operations from using any substance that contains beryllium. "If they're not required to use them safely, we don't want them to use them at all," he said.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Abrasives; Beryllium; Government; Health and safety; OSHA; President Trump; Regulations; Safety; Surface preparation

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