More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Beryllium

Trump administration seeks to roll back Obama rules on toxin.

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Beryllium

Shipbuilding, Anacortes, Washington. (Photo by duluoz cats/ flickr CC 2.0)

When is the last time you read similar headlines in The New York Times and The Occupational Health and Safety Magazine? They’re about beryllium and whether or not the Trump administration has made things worse for certain shipyard and construction workers or left things status quo. Beryllium is a potentially dangerous mineral, exposure to which can lead to chronic beryllium disease — which kills about 100 people a year.

In January 2017, the Obama-era Department of Labor finally issued a beryllium safety exposure rule that had been four decades in the making. Unions and workplace safety advocates cheered. But on Friday, June 23, the Trump administration OSHA proposed changes to that hard-fought agreement. While OSHA wouldn’t be lessening the exposure standards set forth in the January ruling for construction and shipyard industries, it would eliminate additional safety measures.

As Barry Meier reported for The New York Times:

“The OSHA proposal released on Friday would require shipyards and construction companies that use coal slag to meet the same new maximum exposure limit as other industries. But it also proposes to exempt the two sectors from several so-called ancillary requirements, like medical monitoring of employees and other specific safety measures.

“OSHA estimates that there are about 11,500 affected workers in the construction and maritime industries, compared with 50,000 workers in other industries covered by the regulation.

“In the document, the agency said it was taking the step because further review indicated that the ancillary safety measures provided no additional benefits in the maritime and construction industries, which had adequate additional safeguards already in place, such as the use of protective gear.

“The Abrasive Blasting Manufacturers Alliance, an industry group formed by companies that sell coal slag, including the Harsco Corporation, had argued there was no evidence linking its use to beryllium disease. Public records show that the group has spent at least $60,000 to lobby OSHA since January.

The Occupational Health and Safety Magazine leads with the headline that the exposure limits will stay intact.

As Barry Meier and Danielle Ivory reported in The New York Times in early June, the beryllium adjustment is just one of the Trump administration’s changes that has workplace safety and labor advocates up in arms:

“OSHA has also put off enforcement of an Obama-era standard for another respiratory hazard — silica, a mineral linked to a disabling lung disease as well as cancer — and it has delayed action on a rule that would require employers to electronically report workplace injuries so that they can be posted for the public.”

Stay tuned for further developments.

Read more installments in our series “While He was Tweeting” — keeping an eye on Trump’s wrecking ball.