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OSHA proposes further beryllium standard revisions

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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a proposed rule to revise the beryllium standard for general industry.

The proposed changes are designed to clarify the standard and to simplify or improve compliance, the agency said Monday in a statement.

In January 2017, the agency issued a final rule to reduce the eight-hour permissible exposure limit to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter. Above that level, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. The rule also required additional protections, including personal protective equipment, medical exams and other medical surveillance and training. It also established a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period.

But the proposed rule would amend selected provisions of the standard, including those related to personal protective clothing and equipment and medical surveillance, according to the statement.

“What they’re doing is making a few technical changes to the standard, which in our opinion don’t harm it at all (and) in some cases improve it and certainly make it easier to understand and to some degree easier to comply with without compromising worker protection,” said Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh.

For example, there is a list of particular operations that will automatically be subject to the standard so employers do not have to conduct sampling to know whether or not they are covered by the standard, he said. In addition, the medical surveillance provisions were changed so that three inconclusive results on beryllium sensitization tests over long periods of time do not automatically require a worker to be declared sensitized to beryllium, which could harm their job prospects, Mr. Wright said.

“We think that’s actually going to help workers because we don’t want people declared sensitized when they’re really not,” he said.

The enforcement date for the provisions affected by this proposal is Wednesday, according to the OSHA statement.

“While this rule-making is pending, compliance with the standard as modified by this proposal will be accepted as compliance,” OSHA stated.

The proposal satisfies a settlement agreement with stakeholders that had concerns about some of the provisions in the 2017 final rule. The United Steelworkers and the company challenging the regulation, Mayfield Heights, Ohio-based advanced materials supplier Materion Corp., issued a joint statement on Monday in support of OSHA’s proposed changes.

But a dispute over OSHA’s plans to eliminate ancillary provisions in the beryllium standard for the construction and shipyard sectors remains ongoing, Mr. Wright said.

“We are opposing that vigorously,” he said. “That will continue to be an ongoing issue with beryllium, but we hope this will basically settle all of the concerns people had about the general industry standard, with probably one exception. The abrasive blasters that still want to sell and use a product that is contaminated with beryllium just want the standard to go away. I don’t think this is going to placate them. But in a lot of workplaces that we know, that product has been phased out anyway.”

The proposed rule would affect about 50,500 workers employed in general industry and is estimated to yield minor net cost savings to employers, according to the agency statement.

“OSHA expects the proposed changes would provide employees with equivalent safety and health protections to the current standard,” the agency stated.