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Alert: Workplace Beryllium Exposure

  • ISSN: 1195-5228
  • Issued: February 2001
  • Content last reviewed: November 2010

Hazard Summary

Control of beryllium exposure may prevent serious or fatal lung disease.

Inhaling beryllium dust or fumes may cause a serious illness in some people. This illness is chronic beryllium disease, an irreversible and sometimes fatal scarring of the lungs. Beryllium exposure may also result in lung cancer. Workers who work with or around beryllium, beryllium alloys and beryllium-containing materials need to learn of the health risks of beryllium disease. Worker exposure to beryllium should be controlled to levels as low as possible below the regulated Occupational Exposure Limit.

Hazard Locations

Workers engaged in the production, fabrication and finishing of beryllium alloys may be exposed to dust and fume. Mining of beryl ore has not been associated with adverse health effects. Beryllium in solid form and in finished products presents no special health risks.

Uses of beryllium include: metal working (pure beryllium, copper and aluminum alloys, jet brake pads, aerospace components); ceramic manufacturing (semi-conductor chips, ignition modules, crucibles, jet engine blades, rocket covers); electronic applications (transistors, heat sinks, x-ray windows); atomic energy applications (heat shields, nuclear reactors, nuclear weapons); laboratory work (research and development, metallurgy, chemistry); extraction (ore and scrap metal); and dental alloys (crowns, bridges, dental plates); and sporting goods (golf clubs, bicycle frames).

Some of the processes and operations that may release beryllium are:

Industrial Sector:

  • Melting/casting (fumes)
  • Machining (dust/mist)
  • Heat treating (fumes)
  • Research and development (powder)
  • Metallic beryllium operations
  • Maintenance and housekeeping

Construction sector:

  • Decommissioning and demolition of nuclear facilities, power generating plants and aerospace facilities

Mining Sector:

  • Extraction processing
  • Alloy processing

Precautions

The following measures may be used to reduce beryllium exposure in the workplace:

  1. Engineering Controls
    • enclose processes;
    • install local exhaust ventilation;
    • use vacuum systems in machining operations;
    • monitor worker exposure to airborne beryllium.
  2. Process Modification
    • use pellets instead of powders wherever possible;
    • use product substitution where possible;
    • use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuums to clean equipment and the floor; never use compressed air.
    • do not eat, drink, smoke or apply cosmetics in beryllium exposure areas.
  3. Hygiene and Personal Protective Clothing
    • a clean change room, work clothes, showers and a clean area for storing street clothes should be provided;
    • do not wear clothes or work shoes home.
  4. Respirators
    • respirators with NIOSH 100-series filters must be worn for airborne exposures above the regulated occupational exposure limits.
  5. Training
    Employers should provide workers exposed to beryllium training and information about the following items:
    • health effects of beryllium
    • measures to control exposure to beryllium
    • a copy of this alert to take to his/her physician.

Legal Requirements

The Regulation respecting Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents [R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 833,] sets an Occupational Exposure Limit requiring employers to limit the exposure of workers to beryllium and its compounds to the value set out in Table 1 of the Regulation.

For further information or assistance, please contact the Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre, the Industrial Accident Prevention Association, the Construction Safety Association of Ontario or other safe workplace associations.

Internet Resources

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hazard Information Bulletin: Preventing Adverse Health Effects From Exposure to Beryllium on the Job

This Ministry of Labour Alert has no legal effect and does not constitute and is not a substitute for legal advice. If you require specific assistance with respect to the interpretation of a legislative provision and its potential application to you please contact your legal counsel.

Remember that while complying with occupational health and safety laws, you are also required to comply with applicable environmental laws.

Please photocopy Ministry of Labour Alerts, distribute them widely and post them where people will see them.