OSHA's enforcement of its contested beryllium rule for those in the general, construction, and shipyard industries will begin on May 11, 2018, the agency announced.
The date had previously been set for March 12, 2018. However, OSHA pushed back the date to ensure that stakeholders are provided with the right information, and inspectors are up-to-date with instructions.
The agency originally issued health standards for beryllium exposure in all industries in January 2017. Feedback from stakeholders caused OSHA to consider updating the standard in order to clarify compliance requirements.
OSHA will also begin enforcing on May 11, 2018, the new lower 8-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) and short-term (15-minute) exposure limit (STEL) for construction and shipyard industries. In the interim, if an employer fails to meet the new PEL or STEL, OSHA will inform the employer of the exposure levels and offer assistance to assure understanding and compliance, according to the agency.
In June 2017, OSHA published a revised rule on beryllium exposure that rolled back some requirements for the construction and maritime industries found in the final rule initially issued in January 2017. This was met with some backlash from lobbying groups and organizations.
Immediately after the June announcement, United Steelworkers (USW) released a statement questioning OSHA's changes, writing, "employers would no longer have to measure beryllium levels in the workplace or provide medical testing to workers at risk of fatal lung disease. In addition, workers would not have the right to wear protective clothing or to shower at the end of the work shift, making it possible for beryllium to be taken home and exposed to spouses and children.”
Likewise, Congress members also voiced their opinions.
Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, named several issues with the initial delay in the standard’s effective date, including:
- OSHA provided no scientific evidence that the occupational exposure to beryllium in the construction or shipyard industries presents an identifiable or measurable health risk;
- The beryllium rule, as applied to construction and shipyards imposes onerous requirements, is unnecessary and could jeopardize the health of workers who already are protected against targeted risks; and
- There was not adequate notice of OSHA’s intent to include construction and shipyard sectors in a final beryllium rule and that stakeholders did not have a meaningful opportunity to debate the economic and technological feasibility of the requirements applicable to those industries.
OSHA has stated that it plans to have any revisions to the beryllium rule completed by fiscal year 2019.