USW: OSHA Beryllium Enforcement Delay Unjustified

CONTACT: Mike Wright, (412) 370-0106, mwright@usw.org

PITTSBURGH — The United Steelworkers (USW) today condemned a decision by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to delay by 60 days enforcement of its new standard for occupational exposure to beryllium.

The standard had been scheduled to go into effect March 12. OSHA’s new enforcement date will be May 11. In a press release, the agency said the delay “will ensure that stakeholders are aware of their obligations, and that OSHA provides consistent instructions to its inspectors.”

“That’s nonsense,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard said. “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.”

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.

“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.”

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.

The USW is the largest private sector union in North America, representing workers in a wide range of industries including metals, mining, rubber, paper and forestry, oil refining, plus office, technical and service workers in health care, security, hotels and municipal governments and agencies. 

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United Steelworkers
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60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222