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Trump administration looks to ease rule on toxic dust exposure

Trump administration looks to ease rule on toxic dust exposure

The Trump administration wants to exclude the shipbuilding and construction industries from an Obama-era rule to reduce workers’ exposure to a toxic material that can cause a deadly lung disease.   

The rule finalized on Jan. 9 reduces permissible exposure to beryllium from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period.

But the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing to keep exposure limits at the previous level for the shipyard and construction industries.  

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“OSHA has evidence that exposure in these industries is limited to a few operations and has information suggesting that requiring the ancillary provisions broadly may not improve worker protection and be redundant with overlapping protections in other standards,” the agency said in a news release.

“Accordingly, OSHA is seeking comment on, among other things, whether existing standards covering abrasive blasting in construction, abrasive blasting in shipyards, and welding in shipyards provide adequate protection for workers engaged in these operations.”

Beryllium, a lightweight metal used in foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics, composites manufacturing and dental lab work, is coveted for being lighter and stronger than steel, but it can pose serious health risks when it’s crushed to dust and enters the air.

Labor groups had been pushing OSHA to not only extend its protections to cover more workers, but lower the exposure limit even further, to 0.1 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Industry groups were quick to protest that OSHA included shipyard and construction workers in the final rule, but not the proposed rule, leaving the affected industry unable to comment.

OSHA said it will not enforce the Jan. 9 construction and shipyard standards without further notice while determining whether to finalize its proposed changes.