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Industry Reacts to Proposed Beryllium Rules

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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

(This came just days after it released a finalization of its June 2017 proposal and extended compliance dates to September 2020.)

With the announcement, the administration also opened a public comment period on the matter, and scheduled a hearing, which was held on Dec. 3.

The rulings and proposals have been met with strong criticism on all sides, whether it be labor, health, environment or employer advocates. 

Dominic DeAngelo, Director of Sales and Marketing at Harsco Environmental, talked with PaintSquare Daily News about the recent history of the beryllium rules, where the industry goes from here and clearing up information.

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 alloys). In general industry, beryllium alloys are used as an aerospace material, in nuclear reactors and in some medical applications, as well as for other specialized uses.

OSHA

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

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.

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). However, employers using materials with a lesser beryllium content are exempt only “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.”

Here is where, DeAngelo says, things get murky.

“Our primary goal is to protect the safety of our workers and customers, and that’s the same for everybody,” DeAngelo said. “We don’t want to get people sick or hurt. We want to work together with government agencies and industries.

“But when you’re putting out rules that show no tangible health and safety benefit that’s going to cost employers, including small businesses, millions of dollars, we believe that’s just blatantly wrong."

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.

“The type of beryllium and the amount of beryllium matters,” DeAngelo said, noting that the initial rule for beryllium alloys is substantially different than the trace amounts of beryllium that would be found in abrasives.

“This industry has been effectively and safely blasting for well over 80 years and we are not aware of one documented case of beryllium-related illness,” he said, pointing to the already highly regulated existing blast standards.

OSHA, in its rulemaking documentation at the time, 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.”

In addition to the lack of supporting evidence, DeAngelo said, another sticking point for some in the industry revolved around terminology, specifically OSHA’s verbiage that could be seen as more closely relating beryllium to coal slag, as opposed to all abrasive media in general.

In fact, the Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security notes that beryllium-containing minerals are found almost everywhere, including in soil, rocks and volcanic dust, in addition to coal and oil. So, the exemption rule is stricter than some would believe.

“Virtually all products have trace amounts of beryllium. That’s one of the biggest arguments,” DeAngelo said.

“It’s important to recognize that all blasting operations have exposure to hazardous elements, as well as surfaces, coatings and substrates—but that’s why the industry is already highly regulated. OSHA has sometimes referred to one or more specific abrasives [in the context of the beryllium rule] but what it’s done has caused confusion. This [rule] would apply to any kind of abrasive blasting media. Because beryllium is a naturally occurring mineral it will be found in trace amounts virtually in every kind of media,” he said, adding that some companies claim that they’re exempt from the rule, “and that’s not the case.”

“As an industry we don’t believe these should be enforced … but if they’re put into place, all media should be and will be subjected to this rule.”

Technology Publishing Co.

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.

In relation to that, ABMA had cited a 1998 study performed for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to support its contention that all abrasives, not just slags, have the potential to violate the new exposure limits.

Revisions

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 said, were based on the fact that there are a number of regulations that already exist to address particulate exposure in those operations.

However, in late September of this year, in the finalization, OSHA said that it had decided to not adopt the portion of the proposed rule that would have revised the 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.”

That flip-flop, DeAngelo said, is yet another cause for frustration.

“They initially did not include the construction and shipyard industries. They reversed that. Then, OSHA reversed yet again and eliminated construction and shipyards but maintained the new PEL and STEL [exposure limits]. Now, here we are today. It reversed itself for the third time and it’s back in the rule with no credible evidence to support doing so.”

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.

   

Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Abrasives; Beryllium; Government; Health & Safety; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Regulations; Respiratory Protection Standard

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