OSHA has delayed the enforcement date for its final rule on occupational exposure to beryllium in general, construction, and shipyard industries until May 11, 2018 – a move that angered the United Steelworkers (USW) union. The start of enforcement had previously been set for March 12, 2018.

Why the delay?

The agency said the 60-day delay will “ensure that stakeholders are aware of their obligations, and that OSHA provides consistent instructions to its inspectors.”

The USW condemned the rationale behind the decision.

"That's nonsense," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard "OSHA released the standard almost fourteen months ago. You'd think that the stakeholders would have read it by now, and that OSHA would have time to instruct its inspectors. There's no real justification for this delay."

15 lives

"By OSHA's own risk estimate, the standard will save 90 lives a year," said Mike Wright, director of the USW's Health, Safety and Environment Department. "A 60-day delay could eventually cost fifteen lives."

Beryllium is an important metal used in many high-tech applications in the aerospace, electronics, medical and defense industries. However, it is highly toxic, causing a kind of long-term fatal allergic reaction in the lungs of workers who become sensitized to it, as well as causing lung cancer. The USW represents the majority of unionized workers exposed to beryllium.

In January 2017, OSHA issued new comprehensive health standards addressing exposure to beryllium in all industries. In response to feedback from stakeholders, the agency is considering technical updates to the January 2017 general industry standard, which will clarify and simplify compliance with 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.

OSHA has also proposed to eliminate most of the standard's provisions in the shipyard and construction industries. The USW is currently fighting that proposal.