The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it has decided not to enforce a tighter limit on beryllium exposure to workers in the construction industry while it takes public comments on “ancillary provisions” of the January 2017 regulation that set the exposure standards.

The agency, explaining its decision to seek comments on provisions of the rule, said, “Representatives of the shipyards and construction industries, as well as members of Congress, raised concerns that they had not had a meaningful opportunity to comment on the application of the rule to their industries when the rule was developed in 2015-16.” 

In announcing the action on June 23, OSHA said it isn’t seeking comments on the exposure levels, but on “ancillary provisions such as housekeeping and personal protective equipment,” for construction and shipyards which also were part of the January 2017 regulation.

The agency also said an estimated 4,040 construction workers who are involved in abrasive blasting may be exposed to beryllium.

OSHA said that its new, tougher standards of a permissible exposure limit of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter and short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter will remain in effect and be enforced for industries other than construction and shipyards.

The previous standard was 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter. When OSHA announced the rule last January, it said the old standard was based on studies that were “decades-old."

The agency said it concluded that workers exposed to the beryllium at levels exceeding the old limits “were at significant risk of material impairment of health, specifically chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer.”

In its January 2017 rule, OSHA estimated the regulation's compliancecosts at $73.9 million per year and said the expected annual benefits were $560.9 million. It said that, overall, the regulation annually would prevent four lung-cancer deaths, 86 deaths from chronic beryllium disease and 90 other beryllium-related deaths.

The agency also said an estimated 4,040 construction workers may be exposed to beryllium.

Chris Cain, North America’s Building Trades Unions director of safety and health, said via email, “That OSHA is planning to change the rule that they just recently correctly reasoned was necessary and appropriate is troubling. Beryllium is very dangerous and construction workers do get sick from exposure.”

Cain added, “It is also untenable that the agency would decide to decline enforcing they current regulation while they consider what cuts to make to these needed worker protections.”

She said she is “concerned that this action is in violation of at least two laws that govern how they are mandated to conduct rulemaking, so they may be on shaky legal grounds in this new rulemaking.”

Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, said via email, that the group “appreciates that the Labor Dept. has finally appreciated the need to bring the construction industry into the conversation about this rule. We were not consulted prior to the last-minute inclusion of the industry into this rule when it was finalized.”

Turmail added that OSHA’s new action “offers us a vital opportunity to help shape a revised rule that effectively protects construction workers.”