OSHA’s recent decision to delay the effective date of its controversial beryllium exposure rule has generated a lot of attention in the industrial safety media, and rightly so. The beryllium rule is a perfect example of the government overreach that industry often highlights: policies made with good intentions that go beyond their stated goal.
Back in 2015 when OSHA initially proposed the rule, it intended to regulate worker exposure to beryllium alloy, which has been associated with adverse health effects. Many industry leaders spoke up in support of the agency’s goal. But sometime between the public comment period and the issuance of the final rule, it was discreetly expanded to include exposure to the trace amounts of beryllium found in abrasive blasting activities in the construction and maritime industries.
Using a rule aimed at controlling beryllium exposure as a vehicle for regulating abrasive blasting is like comparing apples and oranges. Beryllium alloy manufacturing is objectively dangerous: workers come into contact with Beryllium at 20,000 times the level they do in abrasive blasting, and abrasive blasters are already strictly regulated by OSHA, which requires them to wear extensive personal protection equipment and institute a variety of engineering controls. The previous OSHA regime made an unfair decision to lump abrasive blasters in with alloy manufacturers, and the current administration is correct to delay the implementation of the rule until new leadership takes office and gives it a second look.
The rule is so confusing that many in the media and even the abrasive blasting industry are misinformed about what sectors of the industry will be impacted. We often see the rule portrayed as targeting abrasive blasting operations using coal or copper slag. The truth is, OSHA’s language says nothing about slag. In fact, a close reading of the rule reveals that it governs all abrasive blasting, whether you use slag, glass, garnet, or other common materials. All blasting media include trace amounts of beryllium, which is released into the air; in fact, most of the surfaces that are being blasted include small amounts of Beryllium, too. We’re talking about a common element that appears in garden soil, after all.
Because the beryllium rule will be so destructive to the abrasive blasting industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports on America’s construction sites and in its shipyards, it’s important to understand the far-reaching effect of these new regulations. They’re not only costly and unnecessary, but they are set to impact a much larger portion of the economy than many currently believe. To construe this as a slag-only rule is irresponsible and misleading.
The Abrasive Blasting Manufacturers Alliance has made many of these arguments to leading decision makers in Washington, and we’ll continue to do so. We applaud the Trump Administration’s delay of the Beryllium rule’s implementation, and urge the incoming Department of Labor and OSHA leadership to repeal the portion of the rule that impacts the entire abrasive blasting industry.