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OSHA Releases Proposal for Beryllium Standards

Monday, October 14, 2019

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a proposal earlier this month to “more appropriately tailor the requirements” of beryllium exposure standards to the shipyard and construction industries.

This announcement comes just days after OSHA released a finalization of its June 2017 proposal and extended compliance dates to September 2020.

OSHA is now accepting public comments on the matter.

Original Background

A new beryllium rule was published in January 2017 after years in development, authored primarily by OSHA, the United Steelworkers union and Materion Brush (the country’s largest supplier of beryllium). In general industry, beryllium is used as an aerospace material, in nuclear reactors and in some medical applications, as well as for other specialized uses.

The rule reduced 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 established a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period.

OSHA

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a proposal earlier this month to “more appropriately tailor the requirements” of beryllium exposure standards to the shipyard and construction industries.

Beryllium is a component of coal, certain rock materials, volcanic dust and soil that is 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.

While the rulemaking proposal that was published previous to the actual rule did not apply to the construction and maritime industries, OSHA in the end decided to publish a set of three new beryllium rules, with similar provisions, applying to construction, maritime and general industry.

For those industries, the rule applies when materials being used contain greater than 0.1% beryllium by weight (1,000 ppm). 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.”

According to the supporting material accompanying the new proposed rule change, OSHA included construction and maritime “based on supportive testimony and comments from stakeholders along with exposure data in the record indicating the potential for exposures above the action level for abrasive blasting using coal and copper slags.”

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.

“[For] coal slag that contains 2 ppm (0.0002%) beryllium by weight, the final action level of beryllium of 0.1 μg/m3 would be exceeded only when total dust concentrations exceed 50 mg/m3, a level that is over 3 times higher than the current 29 CFR 1910.1000 (Table Z-1-Limits for Air Contaminants) PEL of 15 mg/m3 for PNOC (particles not otherwise classified),” the website reads. “In this particular situation, if the employer has objective data that shows that exposures are below the PEL for PNOCs, or even up to 3 times the PEL for PNOCs, then this material would be exempt from the beryllium standards.”

Rulemaking Reaction

An organization representing some suppliers of blasting abrasives, the Abrasive Blasting Manufacturers Alliance, argued during the original rulemaking process, and again after the publication of the rule, that there have historically been no cases of chronic beryllium disease known to have resulted from exposure via abrasive blasting.

OSHA, in its rulemaking documentation, countered that “anecdotal reports are not compelling evidence, especially where there is no surveillance program, required or otherwise.” The agency goes on to say that “the best available evidence indicates that there is a significant risk of CBD and lung cancer to workers in construction and shipyards based on the exposure levels observed.”

OSHA noted at the time, though, that it welcomed further data and comments.

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An organization representing some suppliers of blasting abrasives, the Abrasive Blasting Manufacturers Alliance, has argued that there have historically been no cases of chronic beryllium disease known to have resulted from exposure via abrasive blasting.

OSHA’s supporting documents also repeatedly specified two particular types of abrasive media, coal slag and copper slag, as putting blasting workers at risk for beryllium exposure. The 2017 rulemaking cited a number of studies performed for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and for academic journals that look specifically at beryllium in mineral slag abrasives.

In contrast with the OSHA documents, the ABMA cited a 1998 study performed for NIOSH to support its contention that all abrasives, not just slags, have the potential to violate the new exposure limits.

More recently, in March 2018, OSHA announced that it would start enforcing the new rule that May, and ABMA told PaintSquare Daily News in a statement at the time that it wasn’t concerned, saying: “We do not expect any of our members or our customers to be adversely impacted by the new PEL and STEL because existing OSHA rules already ensure that workers are not exposed to beryllium at these new mandated levels. This new rule will apply to all blasting jobs no matter what abrasive is being used, slag, glass and garnet equally, but workers are already protected and there should be no disruption based on OSHA’s decision.” 

Revisions and What Now

A few months after the January ruling, in June 2017, OSHA issued a proposal revoking certain provisions of the rule in the construction and maritime industries, while keeping the new exposure limits.

That proposal eliminated housekeeping and personal-protective-equipment requirements in association with the rule for the construction and maritime industries. OSHA said at the time that abrasive blasting in the construction and maritime industries—and welding specifically in maritime—are the only operations in these industries where the beryllium rule is likely to apply.

The proposed changes, the agency says, are based on the fact that there are a number of regulations that already exist to address particulate exposure in those operations.

Late last month (Sept. 30), however, in the finalization, OSHA said that it is not adopting the portion of the proposed rule that would have revised OSHA's existing beryllium standards for construction and shipyards to revoke the ancillary provisions.

“OSHA finds that other OSHA standards do not duplicate the requirements of the ancillary provisions in the beryllium standards for construction and shipyards in their entirety,” the ruling says. “Thus, revoking all of the ancillary provisions and leaving only the PEL and STEL would be inconsistent with OSHA's statutory mandate to protect workers from the demonstrated significant risks of material impairment of health resulting from exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds.”

OSHA noted that it would soon by releasing a new proposal for the construction and shipyards beryllium standards, which it did on Oct. 7.

“OSHA is proposing to revise the standards for occupational exposure to beryllium and beryllium compounds in the construction and shipyards industries,” the agency said.

The proposed changes aim to accomplish three goals:

  • To more appropriately tailor the requirements of the construction and shipyards standards to the particular exposures in these industries in light of partial overlap between the beryllium standards' requirements and other OSHA standards;
  • To aid compliance and enforcement across the beryllium standards by avoiding inconsistency, where appropriate, between the shipyards and construction standards and proposed revisions to the general industry standard; and
  • To clarify certain requirements with respect to materials containing only trace amounts of beryllium.

The rule would revise the paragraphs: Definitions; Methods of Compliance; Respiratory Protection; Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment; Hygiene Areas and Practices; Housekeeping; Medical Surveillance; Hazard Communication; and Recordkeeping.

OSHA is accepting public comments on the proposal until Nov. 7, and there is an informal public hearing scheduled on the matter on Dec. 3, in the Frances Perkins Building, U.S. Department of Labor, in Washington, D.C.

   

Tagged categories: Beryllium; Good Technical Practice; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Regulations

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