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Trump’s Repeal Of Beryllium Protections Puts Tens Of Thousands Of Workers At Risk

Once again the Trump administration is using their power to steamroll workers and the health protections those workers have fought and died for.  This week, they announced they want to roll back the proposed OSHA rule on Beryllium exposure.

“More working people will die if the Trump administration rolls back OSHA’s beryllium rule,” said AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka. “It also will mark the first time in history for the government to roll back worker safety protections against a cancer-causing toxin. The entire labor movement will work together to fight any proposal that takes away standards that keep us safe at work.”

(Tweet from RoseAnn DeMoro, President of the National Nurses United.)

“Once again, the Trump administration’s Labor Department is taking us backwards and undermining the core principle that no worker should have to sacrifice his or her life for a job,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project.  “Today, at the behest of corporate special interests, the Labor Department issued a proposed rule to loosen health protections for workers exposed to the chemical beryllium.”

Beryllium is a toxic metal known to cause fatal diseases such as chronic beryllium disease of the lungs and lung cancer, even when very low levels are inhaled.

“No matter where they work, U.S. workers deserve protection from exposure to hazardous – and potentially lethal – toxic materials,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “The proposal announced today by the U.S. Department of Labor to weaken standards that limit exposure to beryllium for shipyard and construction workers is a step backwards.”

The proposal would eliminate the “ancillary provisions” of the beryllium rule that would have extended specific new protections to construction and shipyard workers, including exposure assessments, personal protective equipment, medical surveillance and protected work areas. These provisions were included in OSHA’s rule in response to pressure from labor unions and public health groups, including Public Citizen.

“Like other beryllium-exposed workers, construction and shipyard workers deserve to go to work without risking their lives,” said Dr. Sammy Almashat, researcher for Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “By eliminating lifesaving protections for workers in these specified industries, the Trump administration is recklessly putting corporate interests above workers’ lives.”

“It is well documented that shipyard and construction workers can be exposed to beryllium.  They need the same protections as other workers – including monitoring and assessing exposure to potential harm and taking steps to eliminate hazards which can lead to life-threatening diseases,” said Martinez.

In a rulemaking process that lasted more than a decade, OSHA asked stakeholders to comment on whether its final beryllium rule should extend protections to workers in the construction and shipyard industries. After careful consideration, the agency determined that it needed to cover these workers with a lower permissible exposure limit of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air. That limit is preserved in today’s proposal. But the agency also recognized the need to mandate specific protections for construction and shipyard workers. These ancillary provisions have been revoked in the administration’s proposal.

“To protect workers, consistent with its legal authority, OSHA set the lowest exposure standards that were technologically and economically feasible. But because beryllium is highly toxic, the Labor Department knew that workers could still get sick at these exposure limits. So it put into place additional protections—such as medical surveillance of workers near but below the exposure limit—to ensure that any diseases were caught at the early stages. The Labor Department initially projected that these additional protections would save 96 lives per year and prevent 46 new cases of disease,” explained Owens.

OSHA was right to safeguard these workers in its final rule, Public Citizen maintains. According to the agency, beryllium threatens 62,000 workers. OSHA’s own inspection data show that 70 percent of the 11,500 construction and shipyard workers who come into contact with beryllium while performing open-air abrasive blasting are, in fact, exposed to airborne beryllium that can result in debilitating lifelong illnesses and early deaths.

“If this proposal to weaken the beryllium rule goes into effect, construction and shipyard workers will die and be permanently disabled as a result,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The final beryllium rule issued at the end of the Obama administration must be reinstated immediately.”

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About Matt Murray

Matt Murray is the creator and an author on the NH Labor News. He is a union member and advocate for labor and progressive politics. He also works with other unions and members to help spread our message. Follow him on Twitter @NHLabor_News
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