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Supporters decry attempts to water down beryllium safety regulation

Supporters decry attempts to water down beryllium safety regulation

Supporters of the current U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration beryllium regulation have vowed to defend the Obama-era version against an attempt by the Trump administration to modify the rule.

OSHA released a proposed beryllium rule on Friday that would modify standards for the construction and shipyard sectors, and announced it will not enforce the current standards on these industries without further notice.

The proposed rule would maintain the permissible exposure limit at 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter and the short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period for the construction and shipyard industries. However, it will revise the application of ancillary provisions such as housekeeping and personal protective equipment included in the January rule for these industries.

“After decades of work, last January OSHA finally issued a standard protecting workers against exposure to deadly beryllium dust,” said Jordan Barab, OSHA’s former deputy assistant secretary under the Obama administration and publisher of the Confined Space safety and health newsletter in Washington. “Now Trump's OSHA is proposing to weaken those protections for exposed construction and shipyard workers. How long do workers have to wait for the protections they were supposedly guaranteed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act?”

While most members of the United Steelworkers union are in general industry, which will be unaffected by the proposal, as requirements under that standard remain intact, the union does have construction workers who do bridge construction, which involves abrasive blasting, as well as shipyard workers, said Michael Wright, the union’s director of health, safety and environment in Pittsburgh.

“We’d expected something like this,” he said. “There had been a lot of pressure from lobbyists on the administration to roll back the standards in shipyards and construction. If OSHA goes ahead and finalizes the proposal, then we will certainly go to court over it. They have to show that workers are at least as well protected by taking those provisions out as they would be by leaving them in, and we don’t think they can do that.”

“This is an entirely political proposal they will have to defend,” Mr. Wright continued. “Scientifically, we don’t think they can do that it.”

The Trump administration and industry have complained about the cost of OSHA regulations, but the beryllium rule accounts for an estimated $27.6 million in benefits for the construction and shipyards industries and only $11.9 million in costs, Mr. Barab said in a post.

“We don’t think much money is going to be saved by doing this,” Mr. Wright said. “That’s not the metric, of course. The metric is human life.”

The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, and OSHA will conduct a 60-day comment period.

“We intend to be very active in that rule-making,” Mr. Wright said.

OSHA is seeking public comments on whether it should keep any of the ancillary provisions of the Jan. 9, 2017, final rule for construction and shipyards. The agency is requesting comments about the incremental benefit, if any, of keeping the rule’s medical surveillance requirements for construction and shipyards, but revoking the other ancillary provisions or whether OSHA should keep some of the medical surveillance requirements for these sectors but not others.

The agency is also seeking comments about whether the compliance dates in the January rule should be delayed, as OSHA is considering extending the compliance dates by a year for the construction and shipyard standards.

“This would give affected employers additional time to come into compliance with its requirements, which could be warranted by the uncertainty created by this proposal,” the agency said in the notice.



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