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OSHA plans to delay certain beryllium rule provisions

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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration will begin enforcing certain provisions of its beryllium rule on Friday, but plans to delay enforcement of certain ancillary provisions of its general industry standard until Dec. 12.

The agency will begin enforcing certain requirements of the final rule on occupational exposure to beryllium in general industry, construction and shipyards, including the permissible exposure limits in these standards and the exposure assessment, respiratory protection, medical surveillance and medical removal provisions in the general industry standard, according to an OSHA statement published on Thursday.

However, other ancillary provisions included in the beryllium standard for general industry will not be enforced until June 25. And OSHA plans to issue a proposal to further extend this compliance date for the ancillary provisions to Dec. 12, per the terms of settlement agreements with petitioners who challenged the rule, according to the agency.

OSHA previously proposed removing the ancillary requirements from the beryllium standards for the construction and maritime industries. In accordance with that proposal, OSHA will enforce the permissible exposure limits, but will not enforce any other provisions for beryllium exposure in those standards unless it provides notice.

Certain compliance dates outlined in the rule remain unchanged, according to OSHA. Enforcement of the general industry requirements for change rooms and showers will begin March 11, 2019, and requirements for engineering controls will begin March 10, 2020.

In January 2017, OSHA issued a new rule to lower workplace exposure to beryllium. The rule, a final priority for outgoing Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels, aimed to require general industry, construction and shipyard employers to take additional steps to protect an estimated 62,000 workers from serious risks such as lung diseases. 

The final rule reduces the eight-hour permissible exposure limit from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. 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 and other medical surveillance and training. It also establishes a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period.

However, enforcement of the rule has been delayed several times under the Trump administration as unions and industry groups sparred over its provisions.

“We want to see better protections in place that will protect workers and we want to see them in place as soon as possible,” Jim Frederick, assistant director of the health, safety & environment department for United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh.

The union was an intervenor in litigation against OSHA filed by industry challenging the general industry rule and was involved in the settlement discussions, he said.

“We were in agreement with almost all the provisions of that settlement agreement,” Mr. Frederick said. “The one we don’t frankly agree to is this delay. We just don’t understand the necessity of the delay to put in place the changes in the settlement agreement because there are other ways that OSHA could go about doing it.”

Overexposures under the general industry standard will be characterized as serious violations, according to the agency’s interim enforcement memorandum published on Wednesday. Until the compliance date for engineering controls becomes effective in the general industry standard, however, if overexposure is measured, OSHA will consider employers in compliance with the permissible exposure limits as long as they comply with the agency’s respiratory protection standard and employees are provided with and use appropriate respiratory protection, without first attempting to use engineering controls.