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OSHA Issues Final Construction Beryllium Standard

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

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The U.S. Department of Labor has issued its Final Beryllium Standard for Construction and Shipyards. While no major changes are reported in the rule, the DOL did include changes that it says are designed to “clarify the standard and simplify or improve compliance.”

The ruling comes about a month after the agency released the final rule for General Industry.

Some 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.

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 has issued its Final Beryllium Standard for Construction and Shipyards. While no major changes are reported in the rule, the DOL did include changes that it says are designed to “clarify the standard and simplify or improve compliance.”

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.”

At the time, support material to the proposed rule change said that OSHA included construction and maritime based on data of above-action-level exposures related to abrasive blasting. The Department went so far as to single out coal and copper slags, which has been a point of contention in the industry.

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.

Dominic DeAngelo, Director of Sales and Marketing at Harsco Environmental, talked with PaintSquare Daily News about the recent history of the beryllium rules in December and pointed out the dangers of not only relating beryllium to coal slag instead of all abrasives in general, but also the dangers of equating all types of beryllium.

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

The months and years that followed saw several revisions to the rule, primarily to the standards of the construction and shipyards industries.

The General Industry Final Rule

In the July press release, the DOL pointed out that many facets of the General Industry rule have been enforced for a while, saying, “OSHA has been enforcing most of the provisions for general industry since Dec. 12, 2018. The agency began enforcing the provisions for change rooms and showers on March 11, 2019, and engineering controls on March 10, 2020.”

This final standard will affect approximately 50,500 workers employed in general industry and is estimated to yield minor net cost savings to employers, the Department added.

The clarification changes made to the General Industry Standard include:

  • Modifying multiple terms in the Definitions paragraph, including beryllium sensitization, beryllium work area, CBD diagnostic center, chronic beryllium disease, confirmed positive and dermal contact with beryllium;
  • Revisions to Methods of Compliance paragraph (h);
  • Revisions to Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment paragraph (i);
  • Revisions to Hygiene Areas and Practices paragraph (j);
  • Revisions to Housekeeping paragraph (k);
  • Revisions to Medical Surveillance paragraph (m);
  • Revisions to Communication of Hazards paragraph (n); and
  • Revisions to Recordkeeping.

In the rule’s Section XI Summary and Explanation of the Final Rule, the Department details the responses it received from its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that was issued in December 2018. Each change is detailed, along with the responses the DOL received and its thoughts on the responses, culminating in why it chose the changes it did.

The compliance date of this final standard is Sept. 14.

What Now for Construction and Shipyard

In the press release issued Aug. 18, OSHA notes:

“The final rule amends the following paragraphs in the beryllium standards for construction and shipyards: Definitions, Methods of Compliance, Respiratory Protection, Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment, Housekeeping, Hazard Communication, Medical Surveillance, and Recordkeeping. OSHA has removed the Hygiene Areas and Practices paragraph from the final standards because the necessary protections are provided by existing OSHA standards for sanitation.”

This rule, according to OSHA, impacts approximately 12,000 workers employed in nearly 2,800 establishments and OSHA maintains that the standards are estimated to yield $2.5 million in total annualized cost savings to employers. The compliance date is Sept. 30.

Early Monday (Aug. 31), the Abrasive Blasting Manufacturers Alliance released an emailed statement on what the finalization means for workers.

“While as an organization we don’t agree with all of the provisions, because they impose burdensome costs on all abrasive blasters without any scientific data that shows it will increase worker safety, abrasive blasters will still be able to continue using the best media based on their needs,” ABMA said, reaffirming the industry point that all abrasive materials contain trace amounts of beryllium.

The email continues:

“Blanket statements from OSHA about specific abrasive materials containing more or less beryllium than other abrasives are irrelevant under this rule 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 rule and abrasive blasters remain free to use the media that best serves their job.

“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.”

   

Tagged categories: Beryllium; Blasting; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Regulations; Safety

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