What Does OSHA’s New Beryllium Standard Mean?

OSHA recently published NRPM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) in the Federal Register for finalizing, for now, the new Beryllium Standard.

Even though OSHA has been working on a new beryllium standard for almost two decades, it still made a splash when it was initially published in January 2017.

The big change was the rule’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air (µg/m3), measured as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) concentration. The previous limit had been 2.0 micrograms. The new rule also established an Action Level (AL) of 0.1 µg/m3, and a short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 2.0 µg/m3, as measured over a 15-minute sampling period. The rule mandated that employers use  “engineering and work practice controls” to reduce airborne concentrations of beryllium to levels below the PEL and STEL.

Whenever there is a major rule change — about anything —there is usually some pushback from the industries that are impacted by the new rule. Some of this pushback is a knee-jerk anti-regulatory ideological exercise, but another pushback from employers (and others) is extremely helpful in clarifying requirements and defining how a standard will ultimately be enforced.

Just a few months after the rule’s announcement, a notice was published in the Federal Register that said there would be a delay in implementation due to “substantive concerns” raised by the “shipyard and construction sectors.”

In response to these concerns, in December 2018, OSHA issued a proposed rule to amend several selected paragraphs of the standard, asked stakeholders for feedback by February 2019, and said that they would be evaluating compliance based on the requirements as modified. OSHA followed its phased-in compliance timeline and began limited enforcement last spring.

Most recently, at the September meeting of the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH), OSHA announced that the final rule — which was sent to the OMB on August 27, 2019 —addresses industry concerns about compliance dates, includes provisions that are responsive to the unique challenges of airborne exposure in the construction industry and shipyards, but maintains enforcement of the stated permissible exposure limits (PELs).

A comprehensive overview of these provisions for the construction industry can be found in OSHA’s September presentation to the ACCSH.

If you haven’t already done so, employers in regulated industries are encouraged to review the final rule and most recent provisions for the Construction and Shipyard Sectors, and make sure your operations are compliant.

Should you have questions or concerns about compliance — or if you have received an OSHA citation for any reason — feel free to contact me.

About the Author: James Laboe

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