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May 10 — While there is widespread support for a tougher workplace beryllium exposure standard, statements to the agency submitted as the comment period closed May 6 show there continues to be disagreement on how strict the new exposure limits should be.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration hasn't set a timeline for issuing a final beryllium rule (RIN:1218-AB76). The agency held a two-day public hearing in March (46 OSHR 275, 3/24/16).
The White House advised agencies in December to submit draft final rules by mid-summer in order for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to complete its review in time for rules to become final before the end of the Obama administration in January 2017.
As of May 10, no OSHA rulemakings were being reviewed by OIRA. OSHA administrator David Michaels said he expects the agency to resubmit a draft final rule for walking working surfaces (RIN:1218-AB80) in time for it to take effect before he leaves in January (46 OSHR 418, 4/28/16).
OSHA currently enforces a permissible exposure limit for beryllium, adopted in 1971, for general industry, construction and shipyards. The PEL is 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an 8-hour time-weighted average.
OSHA proposes a new PEL that is 80 percent lower—0.2 microgram per cubic meter of air as an 8-hour time-weighted average (80 Fed. Reg. 47,566). While the new PEL would apply to general industry employers, it's uncertain if OSHA would extend the limit to construction and maritime employers (45 OSHR 829, 8/13/15).
OSHA also is proposing requirements for exposure assessment, methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, personal protective equipment, medical surveillance, medical removal, hazard communication and recordkeeping.
Beryllium is used in a range of manufacturing industries, including nuclear weapons, aerospace, defense, automotive, telecommunications and electronics. The risk of chronic beryllium disease and other adverse health effects primarily comes with exposure to beryllium airborne dust, fumes and mist.
Much of the recent impetus to the proposed new standard came from a proposal submitted in 2012 by Materion Brush Inc., the nation's only producer of pure beryllium metal, and the union representing many of its employees, the United Steelworkers.
Ashlee Fitch of the USW's Health, Safety and Environment Department told OSHA in a May 6 brief that “requiring engineering or work practice controls for any operation generating airborne beryllium particulate, as proposed by the USW-Materion joint recommendation, is entirely feasible, and would reduce a risk that OSHA has shown to be significant.”
Fitch added that the USW supports quick completion of the general industry standard. The USW also backs inclusion of the maritime and construction industries if the addition “does not further delay the enactment of the final rule.”
A group of construction unions, North America's Building Trades Unions, urged OSHA in an April 21 letter to “work expeditiously on promulgating a final rule that includes coverage for the construction industry.”
One point of friction between those groups who want the rule approved as soon as possible and those seeking even stronger requirements is OSHA's alternative proposal to set a stricter PEL of 0.1 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
The advocacy group Public Citizen in a May 6 letter called for OSHA to adopt the tougher 0.1 microgram per meter cubed PEL. If OSHA won't adopt the lower PEL, it should still used the proposed action level of 0.1 microgram, rather than at the proposed PEL of 0.2 microgram, to trigger medical examinations and screenings for beryllium sensitization, Public Citizen said.
Comments from Materion in a May 4 letter called for OSHA to adopt the proposal submitted jointly by the company and the USW.
“It would be prudent for OSHA to put the ideological commentaries in the proper perspective and opt to first protect workers who work in the commercial applications that rely on the unique properties of beryllium, a metal that cannot be substituted without a loss in performance, reliability or safety,” said Marc Kolanz, Materion's vice president for safety and health.
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The comments and all other beryllium rulemaking documents are available at http://www.regulations.gov by searching for Docket No. OSHA-H005C-2006-0870.
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