Beryllium exposure can lead to serious health problems, such as chronic beryllium disease (CBD), a serious lung disease. The element is classified as a human carcinogen, as well, carrying the risk of lung cancer.
Beryllium exposure is so dangerous that it has been the subject of a recent change to regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The agency has cut its permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 0.2 micrograms, a tenfold reduction.
Here are four steps to reduce exposure to beryllium:
- Your first step in reducing beryllium exposure is to examine your welding processes. Process improvements can often cut fumes with far less expense and hassle than other methods. Changing your weld wire from flux-core to solid, for example, is a highly effective way to reduce fume volume and to cut welders’ exposure to beryllium.
- The next step is engineering controls, such as a dust collection system that will limit workers’ exposure to weld fumes. For manual welding, backdraft tables, fume arms or fume guns can be used to collect weld fumes and keep them out of the welder’s breathing zone. Robotic applications should be kept under hoods whenever possible. High-efficiency dust collection systems, such as the RoboVent Spire dust collector, can filter beryllium and other harmful contaminants out of the air, protecting workers and bringing a facility into regulatory compliance.
- Next, consider an ambient dust collector. If a source capture system is already in place and if beryllium exposure levels are still too high, there are still more options available. An ambient source dust collector will clean the air throughout a facility and cut exposure levels to weld fumes.
- If engineering controls do not keep exposure levels within PELs, welders should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR’s), which filter the air wherever a welder goes. Air quality experts recommend serious training on these devices so that they are used as effectively as possible. Remember that OSHA considers PPE to be a last resort; engineering controls must be used whenever it is technically feasible.