OSHA Invites Public Comments on Proposed Beryllium Rule through Aug. 28, 2017

By Sally Murdoch

Beryllium Material Caution sign

Public comments are mounting on a proposed rule OSHA has set in motion in which the agency seeks to roll back certain provisions of its final rule on worker exposure to beryllium in the construction and shipyard industries. The agency is encouraging the public to comment on the beryllium proposal electronically, giving two months to weigh in until August 28, 2017.

OSHA hopes the input will help steer “whether existing standards covering abrasive blasting in construction, abrasive blasting in shipyards, and welding in shipyards provide adequate protection for workers engaged in these operations.”

In the meantime, OSHA will not enforce the construction and shipyards standards without further notice while they gather public comment and determine possible amendments to the rule.

What OSHA is Proposing

The final rule was published in January 2017, and was scheduled to go into effect January 9, yet was delayed until March 21. OSHA then pushed back the effective date to May 20, 2017. The final rule established lower permissible exposure limits and requirements for exposure assessments, respiratory protection, and other regulations.

One key regulation under the final rule is that the 8-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) decreased to 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air from the previous limit of 2.0 micrograms.

The newly proposed rollback to the rule retains the new PEL of 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air. However, according to an OSHA beryllium announcement released late June 2017, the agency is proposing the removal of “the following provisions: exposure monitoring, regulated areas (and competent person in construction), a written exposure control plan, protective equipment and work clothing, hygiene areas and practices, housekeeping, medical surveillance, medical removal, and worker training.”

The release states: “OSHA has evidence that exposure in these industries is limited to a few operations and has information suggesting that requiring the ancillary provisions broadly may not improve worker protection and be redundant with overlapping protections in other standards.”

What We Know about Beryllium and Safety

Beryllium signage

As well as construction and shipyard work, beryllium is used in aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunications, medical, and manufacturing trades. The metal can be highly toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust or fumes throughout the workplace, and when inhaled, it can cause lung damage. Known as berylliosis, the condition is life-threatening and incurable, but symptoms are treatable when diagnosed.

Because of beryllium’s toxicity, this proposed ruling rollback is causing concerns among safety and labor advocates. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the proposal “will mark the first time in history for the government to roll back worker safety protections against a cancer-causing toxin.”

How Visual Communication Can Help

While beryllium may be unavoidable in shipyard and construction trades, workers can guard against inhalation if they know of its presence, and Graphic Products offers up some solutions. Premade signs that alert employees of beryllium’s presence can be placed in workplaces with beryllium-containing materials capable of releasing airborne beryllium dust or fumes. These can be easily made with any of Graphic Products’ industrial printers, such as its sturdy and portable DuraLabel Toro.

As well as alerting employees of the hazard, companies employing shipyard and construction workers can develop personal protective equipment (PPE) signage, and can direct workers where to find protection and instructions in the event of accidental exposure.

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