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Beryllium: What Is It and How Does It Affect Workers?

Concerns regarding chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer in workers throughout America have put OSHA into motion to refine the beryllium standard. OSHA plans to save 90 lives per year with new revisions to the beryllium standard. Beryllium is a chemical element often used as an alloy agent to produce things like beryllium copper, which is used for manufacturing springs, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes and non-sparking tools. Beryllium is also used in the telecommunications, aerospace, medical, construction, shipyard and nuclear industries.


Beryllium is one of the most toxic chemicals for humans to breathe in. Exposure can lead to chronic beryllium disease (CBD) and is known to be a carcinogenic. Much like silicosis, chronic beryllium disease can lead to scarring on the lungs, which causes shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue and other symptoms. While it is not curable, CBD can be managed and treated to prevent progression of the disease. It is estimated that approximately 10-14% of workers with high exposure to beryllium particles develop chronic beryllium disease at some point.


Workers in the following industries are most often exposed to beryllium dust or fumes:

  • Foundry Workers

  • Furnace Tenders

  • Machine Operators

  • Metal Fabricators

  • Welders

  • Abrasive Blasters

To prevent workers from being exposed to beryllium particles, employers are required to keep up with OSHA's standards. OSHA issued a final ruling in 2017 regarding the standard, but has since decided to further refine the standard for shipyard and construction companies. The new proposed changes will further ensure safety for workers while providing some cost savings.


As of now, some of the standards employers must follow regarding beryllium include:

  • Providing adequate ventilation in work spaces

  • Minimize use of beryllium when other materials can be used

  • Isolate the areas where beryllium is used

  • Use of high-efficiency particulate air vacuums for cleaning

  • Use of PPE including face masks and respirators

With any changes OSHA makes, they want to ensure they consider input from professionals in the field to better understand the pros and cons of their proposed ideas. OSHA provides the opportunity for anyone to submit formal comments regarding the standard and the proposed changes. There will also be a hearing on December 3, 2019 to determine whether or not the proposed changes will be accepted and a discussion on how to phase in the changes. To read more information regarding the proposed changes or to submit a formal comment, go to Occupational Exposure to Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds in Construction and Shipyard Sectors.


SMART Safety can provide safety training, meetings and other services to help establish a safe work environment for your company and regulate your sites to ensure they are OSHA compliant. Our comprehensive, fully customized safety programs allow you to build the perfect program for your line of work and provide your employees with the most important materials and training. For more information on SMART Safety's safety services, please visit our Safety Services page or give us a call at (844) 820-8098.


#Beryllium #OSHA #WorkplaceSafety #SafetyFirst