May 8, 2014
OSHA’s Beryllium Standard Grossly Inadequate; Agency Has Deliberated Reforms for More Than a Decade
Statement of Keith Wrightson, Worker Safety and Health Advocate, Public Citizen
Note: At 12:45 p.m. today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health will hold a hearing on the agency’s proposed rulemaking for beryllium. Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate at Public Citizen, has submitted written testimony calling for stronger protections for construction workers.
Protections against exposure to beryllium allotted to workers are far too weak, especially in the construction industry, where an estimated 23,000 construction workers come in contact with beryllium every day while performing open-air blasting. Public Citizen demanded stronger protections for workers in 2001 when we petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to lower the personal exposure limit for beryllium from its current threshold of 2.0 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter of air) to 0.2 μg/m3.
Now, 13 years later, OSHA has signaled that it is likely to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to modernize the beryllium standard.
On Dec. 6, 2013, the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health heard testimony from OSHA officials and the public on possible changes to the current beryllium standard for general industry (29 C.F.R. 1910.1000) and construction (29 C.F.R. 1926.55). Last month, OSHA presented options for the committee to consider for updating the beryllium standard. One of those options includes lowering the personal exposure limit, as Public Citizen has long recommended, and an identical short-term exposure limit. It also includes better exposure monitoring, broader regulated areas, enhanced medical surveillance and clearer methods of compliance with the standard.
High dust concentrations on construction sites can lead to extremely elevated beryllium levels. OSHA has said that 70 percent of all worksites where abrasive blasting is performed – such as construction sites and ship-building yards – have detectable beryllium levels, with a mean level of 3.7 μg/m3 and a median of 0.6 μg/m3. While some workers who engage in open-air blasting are protected from high dust levels through air respirators and protective clothing supplied by employers, many are still being exposed to the harmful effects of beryllium because employers don’t provide protection.
After so many years of foot-dragging by OSHA, it is time that the tens of thousands of workers exposed to beryllium on a daily basis get the protections they deserve. We urge the committee to recommend the strongest protections possible within a new beryllium standard.