On 23 March, the Beryllium Science & Technology Association (BeST) hosted its first 2021 webinar entitled “Be Responsible – Working Safely with Beryllium”.
Beryllium is a naturally occurring element that can be found in the Earth’s crust, vegetation and sea water. While contact with beryllium metal is normally safe, those who work with beryllium may come into contact with beryllium particles in the air, which could lead to beryllium sensitisation, or chronic beryllium disease (CBD).
BeST recognizes that substantial uncontrolled workplace exposure to beryllium can present a potential health and safety hazard to employees. With the aim of minimizing any potential hazard, BeST members have launched the “Be Responsible” program. “Be Responsible” is an industry lead, voluntary program launched in March 2017 by BeST. Members of BeST have collaborated to put together this Voluntary Product Stewardship Programme to ensure safe and responsible usage of Beryllium in workplace.
BeST recognizes that it is prudent to adapt beryllium exposure controls where feasible and necessary, and that following the guidance provided through the Be Responsible program can reduce potential health risks in places of employment and other activities involving beryllium manufacturing or use.
The aim of the webinar was to discuss general and specific industrial hygiene practices to ensure worker safety with Beryllium. During the webinar, experts touched upon the recommended risk management measures to be implemented by the industry and the newly adopted EU binding occupational exposure limit for Beryllium and inorganic compound.
Our first speaker, Ted Knudson, Vice President of BeST and Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs and Product Stewardship at Materion Corporation, started the webinar by providing ta detailed overview of the current EU Regulatory Framework on beryllium. Mr. Knudson explained that in 2016, the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) recommended the setting of an EU-wide Binding Occupational Exposure Limit (BOEL) for Beryllium while suggesting that there was not need for Beryllium to be restricted under REACH or to be considered as a Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC). As a consequence, a BOEL for Beryllium was set at 0.6 μg/m3 (Inhalable fraction) until July 11, 2026 and at 0.2 μg/m3 (Inhalable fraction) after July 11, 2026.
Mr. Knudson then introduced Be Responsible Program. The program includes a web-based format featuring three general and nine process-specific guides currently in five European languages, presentations and videos. The website describes the potential health risks associated with the exposure to airborne beryllium, the main sources of exposure and the measures to be implemented to control dust emission and dispersion for the most frequent operations. The Be Responsible Program also includes Recommended Exposure Guideline (REG), control measures, exposure evaluation, training and research.
Mr. Knudson then gave an overview of Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD) and the beryllium worker protection model. He explained that the goal of the model is to prevent CBD, recommending adherence to the eight elements included within the model. These elements are a series of actions that will minimize exposure to beryllium in workplace, ranging from keeping beryllium off of the skin to keeping a clean workplace area. Mr. Knudson also emphasised that serious diseases have been registered in the use of soluble beryllium, while in Europe only insoluble forms of beryllium are used by industry, as demonstrated by a study from Dr. Paolo Boffetta.
The second speaker of our webinar was Steven Verpaele, President of the Belgian Center for Occupational Hygiene and Industrial Hygienist at the Nickel Institute. Mr. Verpaele presented an exposure assessment to beryllium. He highlighted that within the EU there are three important standards to be considered when assessing an exposure: (i) measuring the exposure by inhalation to chemical agents, (ii) assessing the general requirements for the performance of procedures for the measurement of chemical agents and (iii) defining the measurement of airborne particles.
Mr. Verpaele continued his presentation by explaining each method of assessment. He underlined that a stepwise approach to deal with compliance should include: (i) the search for methods that are aligned with the defined matrix LV, (ii) the comparison of the data in the methods with the minimum requirements of workplace assessment methods, (iii) the identification of the most appropriate method to be used to comply with OELs.
Mr. Kudson concluded the webinar with a detailed presentation on the strategies available to control workplace exposure to beryllium.
Throughout the Q&A session, our experts answered a series of relevant questions on the Be Responsible program.
The audience first asked a question on whether there is technology available to detect the exposure of beryllium in real time. Both the speakers stated that there are currently projects on the possibility of developing such a device but, for the moment, technology has not been developed yet.
A question on whether there are technologies to capture and neutralize the fume coming from beryllium was asked. Mr. Knudson that there are different technologies, including capturing hoods, that help in limiting the direct exposure to beryllium while cleaning the air circulating in the workplace.
Following a question on recognising Chronic Beryllium Disease CBD), Mr. Knudson explained that CBD often presents with respiratory symptoms, which may include cough, shortness of breath and fever. He also underlined that there are tests available to detect CBD. He explained that CBD is treatable but not curable and that the beryllium worker protection model helps in preventing CBD from happening.
Mr. Knudson also addressed a final question on whether the safety practices of working with beryllium have been affected by the COVID crisis. He explained that there has not been a substantial change in the workplace since the beginning of the pandemic and that beryllium safety measures can be guaranteed.
For further information on exposure assessment to beryllium and its inorganic compounds, please see:
1. National adopted and required methods indicated in legislation
2. Internationally elaborated and approved standards (ISO, CEN, ASTM)
3. Methods of research institutes, national institutes, etc. (Check the latest version!)