On June 23, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a proposed rule that would modify a beryllium exposure standard (as it applies to the construction and shipyard industries) issued by the organization on January 9.

The original standard added new protections for general industry, construction and shipyard workers exposed to beryllium—a lightweight metal used in specialty alloys and beryllium oxide ceramics, and in trace amounts in metal slag, which can cause a serious lung disease known as chronic beryllium disease (CBD). For more on the original standard read Tom O'Connor's April safety column

Explaining the proposal, OSHA stated in a press release, “Representatives of the shipyards and construction industries, as well as members of Congress, raised concerns that they had not had a meaningful opportunity to comment on the application of the rule to their industries when the rule was developed in 2015-16. This proposal provides a new opportunity to comment on the rule for those industries and the public.”

The submitted proposal would apply only to the shipyard and construction industries, leaving the provisions unaffected for the general industry sector.

Under the proposed rule, the construction and shipyard industries would still be required to abide by the new permissible long- and short-term exposure limits (0.2 μg/m3 for long-term and 2.0 μg/m3 for short-term exposure) set by the January 9 rule, as OSHA determined that there is significant risk of CBD and lung cancer based on the beryllium levels observed in both industries, according to the notice for the proposed rule.

However, OSHA intends to revise provisions related to secondary protections like personal protective equipment, housekeeping, medical surveillance and recordkeeping. According to a press release from OSHA, beryllium exposure in construction and shipyard sectors is limited to abrasive blasting and welding, which are already covered by other standards. OSHA stated, “requiring the ancillary provisions broadly may not improve worker protection and [may] be redundant with overlapping protections in other standards.”

Individuals can submit comments on the proposed rule through Aug. 28, 2017. OSHA is particularly interested in whether existing standards covering abrasive blasting in construction, abrasive blasting in shipyards, and welding in shipyards provide adequate protection for workers engaged in these operations. More information on submitting comments and requesting public hearings can be found here under the "Public Participation" tab.

OSHA will not enforce the Jan. 9, 2017, construction and shipyard standards without further notice while determining whether to amend the Jan. 9, 2017, rule.

Wes Wheeler, director of safety at NECA, stated, “We’re happy to see the final rule consider the effects on construction and maritime and that OSHA has eliminated enforcement in construction and maritime. We do recognize that beryllium is a hazard, but it’s far more of an issue in general industry than at construction sites. We appreciate that OSHA has considered that.”