The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a new modification to its recently proposed standards for beryllium exposure among construction and shipyard workers. Representatives of those industries, and some members of Congress, objected that they had not had sufficient opportunity to comment on the application of the rule to their industries when the rule was developed in 2015-16.
Beryllium is a metal noted for its lightweight and exceptional stiffness. It’s used as specialty alloy (particularly with aluminum) to produce high-value investment castings, particularly for aerospace and defense programs. It’s also used to produce beryllium-oxide ceramics.
But, beryllium presents two risks of toxic exposure: first via soluble beryllium salts, which may occur via exposure to the elemental or refined forms of the metal; and second, via long-term exposure to beryllium oxide, usually by inhalation.
In January of this year OSHA issued a final rule establishing new protections for workers who are exposed to beryllium in general industry, construction, and shipyards. That rule would reduce the eight-hour permissible exposure limit from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms/m3 to 0.2 micrograms/m3. Above that level, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. The rule requires additional protections, including personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training. It also establishes a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms/m3 over a 15-min. sampling period.
OSHA estimates that, once in full effect, the rule will save 94 lives annually and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease. Workers in foundries, fabricating, machining and grinding operations where beryllium metal and alloys are processed; or those working with beryllium-oxide ceramics; and dental lab workers represent most of those at risk of exposure.
The proposed change to that rule provides a new opportunity to comment for those representing workers in the construction and shipyard industries.
Also, the new proposal would make changes to the rule only for the shipyard and construction sectors. The general industry standard is unaffected by the proposal.
The proposed changes for shipyards and construction would maintain the requirements for exposure limits (0.2 μg/m3 permissible exposure limit, and 2.0 μg/m3 short-term exposure limit.)
Instead, the new proposal revises the application of ancillary provisions, such as housekeeping and personal protective equipment in the January 2017 final standards for the construction and shipyard industries.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Occupational Exposure to Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds in Construction and Shipyard Sectors will be published in the Federal Register on June 27, 2017. OSHA encourages the public to participate in this rulemaking by submitting comments during the 60-day comment period.