Beryllium Exposure Risks

Beryllium exposure risks workers in various workplaces like construction, welding, aluminum smelting, precision machining, ore milling, mining, ceramics and nuclear facilities.

As an occupational hazard, companies using beryllium are strictly monitored to adhere to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure level of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) has issued a warning document, “Preventing Sensitization & Disease from Beryllium Exposure”, which indicated the safe level of exposure to beryllium.

A lightweight earth metal, beryllium is used as a hardening agent in many alloys like beryllium copper. Exposure to dust, fumes, powder or mist can cause acute beryllium disease or chronic beryllium disease. Of the two diseases, chronic beryllium disease or CBD is the most common type among workers exposed or sensitized to beryllium.

Beryllious Lungs
The photo on right shows a lung exposed to beryllium.

To reduce beryllium exposure risks, employers are required by the NIOSH to ensure that workers are protected against toxic exposure from beryllium-containing materials. Here are some steps to protect workers, contractors and visitors from beryllium exposure:

  • Workers must be aware about the materials containing beryllium in your workplaces. Material Safety Data Sheets must be provided containing information from manufacturers and suppliers about materials containing more than 0.1% beryllium.
  • Employers, manufacturers and contractors must replace less toxic materials for those with beryllium whenever possible.
  • Employers must minimize the number of workers and the chances for beryllium exposure by using automated processes.
  • Workers must follow the safe exposure limit for beryllium to keep airborne beryllium concentrations at low level.

Companies must conduct information and training of workers on the risks of beryllium sensitization and exposure and establish proper procedures for working with the toxic metal.

  • Beryliium dusts, mists and fumes and beryllium-containing solutions and suspensions must be confined to the immediate work area all.
  • Workers must use HEPA-filtered vacuums or wet cleaning methods to avoid resuspending beryllium in the air.
  • Companies must establish and maintain a strict respiratory protection program to protect workers’ skin from exposure and contamination from beryllium dusts and solutions.
  • Workers must always make sure that work surfaces and work areas are clean.
  • Workers must keep protective clothing like gloves, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and shoes at the workplace only.
  • Showering and changing facilities must be provided closest to the working areas.
  • Medical evaluation must be conducted by companies using beryllium lymphocyte proliferation testing or BeLPT.