Beryllium: what is it? Does it endanger me if I work around it?

beryllium

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I know, hearing the word probably places you right back in high school chemistry class, begrudgingly memorizing the periodic table of elements. That class came in handy because Beryllium is actually very prevalent in industrial operations, and whether you know it or not you’ve likely been in contact with it at one point or another. In fact, “OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers are potentially exposed to it in approximately 7,300 establishments in the United States. While the highest exposures occur in the workplace, family members of workers who work with beryllium also have potential exposure from contaminated work clothing and vehicles.”

What is it?

OSHA defines Beryllium as a “lightweight but extremely strong metal used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunications, medical, and defense industries. Beryllium-copper alloys are widely used because of their electrical and thermal conductivity, hardness, and good corrosion resistance. Beryllium oxide is used to make ceramics for electronics and other electrical equipment because of its heat conductivity, high strength and hardness, and good electrical insulation.”

beryllium

wikipedia

In summary, OSHA says you can find it in these industries:

  • Beryllium Production
  • Beryllium Oxide Ceramics and Composites
  • Nonferrous Foundries
  • Secondary Smelting, Refining, and Alloying
  • Precision Turned Products
  • Copper Rolling, Drawing, and Extruding
  • Fabrication of Beryllium Alloy Products
  • Welding
  • Dental Laboratories

Does it endanger me if I work around it?

Honestly yeah, it does. OSHA stresses that when working with Beryllium or Beryllium compounds, you are at risk for:

  • Lung cancer- Lung cancer is associated with occupational exposure by inhaling beryllium-containing dust, fumes or mist. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists it as a Group 1 carcinogen (causes cancer in humans), and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) lists it as a known human carcinogen.
  • Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD)- a serious pulmonary disease that can cause serious debilitation or death. Signs and symptoms of CBD can include shortness of breath, an unexplained cough, fatigue, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. Some workers may develop severe symptoms very quickly, while others may not experience signs and symptoms until months or years after their exposure to it. CBD can continue to progress even after a worker has been removed from exposure. An individual must become sensitized to beryllium through inhalation or skin exposure before he or she can develop CBD.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, since we can rely OSHA to keep workers safe and to educate them about the dangers of their occupation while also making sure company’s don’t cut corners or skimp on their worker’s safety, OSHA has mandated a new standard to help keep you safe should you come into contact with it in your occupation. Here’s what has to be done in order to comply with the new standard:

  • The rule reduces the PEL for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/ m3 ) averaged over 8 hours, and establishes a short-term exposure limit (STEL) for beryllium of 2.0 µg/m3 over a 15-minute sampling period. Employers must use engineering and work practice controls to prevent excessive beryllium from becoming airborne where workers can breathe it in.
  • Employers must limit access to high-exposure areas, provide respiratory protection when necessary, and provide personal protective clothing when high exposures or dermal contact is possible.
  • Employers must assess exposures, develop and implement written exposure control plans, and provide workers with training specific to the compound.
  • Employers must offer medical examinations to certain exposed workers. If a specified beryllium-related health effect is identified, they must offer additional workplace accommodations to the worker to reduce exposure.

Bottom Line- This is a pretty common compound that many workers are exposed too, and it’s your employer’s duty to make sure you are safe in doing so. If you’re an employer, stay compliant with the new standard to keep your employees and their families safe and healthy.

To learn more, visit OSHA.com/beryllium. Or, feel free to print out or email this OSHA handout to educate your workplace.

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