Tighter Beryllium Exposure Limits to Save Worker Lives: OSHA

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By Sam Pearson

New limits for beryllium will save lives and curb illness among foundry workers and those employed in smelting, fabricating and other industries who may be exposed to the cancer-causing metal, OSHA said in a final rule issued Jan. 6.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s final rule (RIN:1218-AB76) lowers the permissible exposure limit for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour time-weighted average, or 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air over a sampling period of 15 minutes. Employers face new requirements for assessing exposure and will have to minimize worker exposure through respiratory protection, personal protective clothing and equipment, housekeeping, medical surveillance, hazard communication and recordkeeping.

“Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure,” OSHA Director David Michaels said in a statement Jan. 6.

The rule, replacing a standard that is over four decades old, is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register Jan. 9.

OSHA said the rule will cost $73.9 million each year and prevent 90 premature deaths and 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease when fully implemented. The rule contains three standards for general industry, shipyards and construction and will primarily protect workers in foundry and smelting operations, fabricating, machining, grinding beryllium metal and alloys, beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing and dental lab work.

Compliance “is economically feasible in every affected industry sector,” OSHA said.

Started With Union, Company Negotiations

The rule, coming in the final days of the Obama administration, has had a long path to publication.

The United Steelworkers union and Materion Corp., the largest manufacturer of beryllium in the U.S., negotiated a draft of the standard in 2012, then submitted it to OSHA.

“We are just overjoyed that the rule’s finally been released,” Michael Wright, the USW’s health and safety director, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 6, recalling working on the issue when he joined the union in 1977. “We know we’re going to have to defend it; there are people that are going to attack it. That’s tomorrow—today is really a day for celebration.”

A Materion spokesman said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA Jan. 6 that the company does not yet have a position on the final rule.

“We are withholding comment on our view or specifics of the final standard until we have reviewed the more than 900-page document,” the spokesman said.

Michaels predicted Nov. 30 the rule would “be welcomed by both industry and labor.”

But the unintentional release of a draft final version of the rule to members of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Beryllium Health and Safety Committee, of which Materion Corp. is a member, prompted the company to complain it was unworkable and different from what it had agreed to.

In a statement Jan. 6, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, credited OSHA for expanding the plan to include standards for maritime and construction workers, a change from its 2015 proposal.

Scott said the old standard “was obsolete the day it was issued back in 1948.”

Future of Rule

While congressional Republicans and the incoming Trump administration have signaled they plan to aggressively target Obama administration-issued regulations, it’s not clear if the beryllium standard meets the criteria.

The rule was developed more cooperatively than other agency rulemakings, but it also affects more companies than just Materion. At the same time, it’s not clear how Materion and others will view OSHA’s revisions.

Under federal law, Wright noted, OSHA cannot simply approve proposed standards by outside groups but must perform its own evaluation and propose what its research supports.

Once the rule takes effect, employers will have one year to implement most provisions, but will have two years to provide required changing rooms and showers and three years to implement required engineering controls.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Pearson in Washington at spearson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The final rule is available at http://src.bna.com/lco

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