The Trump administration doesn’t seem to consider worker health to be very important in the grand scheme of things. Yet another Obama era protection has been dropped by the Labor Department in a mad rush to undo regulations whether we need them or not. In this case, workers at construction sites and shipyards are likely to be exposed to higher levels of beryllium.
The Trump administration doesn’t seem to consider worker health to be very important in the grand scheme of things. Yet another Obama era protection has been dropped by the Labor Department in a mad rush to undo regulations whether we need them or not. In this case, workers at construction sites and shipyards are likely going to be exposed to higher levels of beryllium.
Beryllium is a commercially valuable yet toxic metal that is lighter and stronger than steel. It’s used in ceramics, composites manufacturing, foundries, dental lab work, and trace amounts of it are found in the coal slag used to sandblast ship hulls smooth before they’re painted. Inhaling the dust leads to Berylliosis, or Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD). Over time, CBD leads to shortness of breath, a permanent dry cough, fatigue, night sweats, chest and joint pain, loss of appetite, and can be fatal. There is no cure, but immunosuppressive drugs, supplemental oxygen, and (eventually) lung transplants are standard therapy for CBD.
Roughly 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium in the defense, aerospace, and shipbuilding industries.
The Obama era limit for beryllium exposure and industry support for the rule was considered to be a huge victory for worker safety that took decades to accomplish. Finalized on January 9th, it would have reduced allowable exposure from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air over a standard eight-hour workshift.
According to OSHA, the regulation was expected to prevent about 100 deaths and 50 cases of lung cancer or CBD every year.
Unfortunately, on June 23rd, OSHA announced that while it intended to preserve the exposure limit, it was proposing doing away with any new requirements for the construction and shipbuilding industries to actually monitor the levels of beryllium to which their workers would be exposed. Further, these industries would be less responsible for providing workers with protective clothing and equipment, or even testing for beryllium-related illnesses. This, after the Trump administration twice delayed implementation of the new limit in the first place. And then, not long afterwards, OSHA proposed rolling back parts of the new rule altogether.
Why? Oh, all the usual reasons.
Industry representatives and members of Congress squawked about not having had a “meaningful opportunity” to contribute their insight during the rule-writing process. It needed “further study.” According to OSHA, “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.”
It’s worth noting that Geoffrey Burr, a former lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors (an anti-union industrial group that opposed the new beryllium exposure standards) served on the Labor Department’s transition team and helped oversee OSHA before moving on to the Department of Transportation.
Other cuts at OSHA, including slashing a program aimed at educating workers in dangerous industries about how to identify potentially deadly working conditions and how to hold their employers accountable for those dangers, add to the impact of repealed safety regulations. In short, the Trump agenda means more workers will die prematurely.
Even if the number of workers exposed to toxic beryllium dust only numbers in the thousands, they still deserve to be protected from occupational hazards like lung cancer and CBD. Their families deserve to have their breadwinners come home every night, instead of being human sacrifices on the altar of industrial profits and an anti-regulatory political agenda.
Related: Labor Department Mum on Key Changes