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Occupational Exposure to Beryllium
Contractors deal with all kinds of hazardous materials on a daily basis. From lead to asbestos and dust particulates in the air, there’s no doubt that safety in dealing with these kinds of materials is essential to the daily tasks of a contracting business. One kind of occupational exposure danger that many don’t hear about, however, is beryllium. Beryllium is most commonly encountered in the defense and aerospace industries as a conductor of heat and energy, but can be exceptionally dangerous if not properly dealt with.
Chronic Beryllium Disease
Chronic Beryllium Disease, or CBD, is a lung illness resulting from the inhalation of this metal in its dust particulate form. Even brief exposure can result in CBD, though more often it occurs many years after long-term exposure. This illness develops in approximately ten percent of those who are exposed to beryllium dust or powder.
In the early stages of CBD, few to no symptoms manifest. Eventually, however, the lungs become inflamed and develop scar tissue which interferes with vascular function and patients experience weakness, fatigue, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, joint pain, weight loss, coughing and fever. Once this disease is contracted, there is no cure, and on occasion the illness has progressed to the development of lung cancer.
Controlling Beryllium Poisoning
As with most hazardous substances, preventing beryllium poisoning is accomplished by reducing and controlling occupational exposure to the substance. OSHA has set standards for the control and regulation of hazardous materials in the workplace.
These require ensuring that all workspaces are adequately ventilated. Hazardous materials are to be avoided if there are equivalent and less dangerous substances available. When such materials are used, they must be isolated and the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) including respirators, masks, gloves and other protective clothing must be used. Finally, when cleaning, vacuums with HEPA filters must be used to avoid the release of toxic materials into the air.
Education and Training
All manufacturers must provide safety data sheets to communicate the hazards of beryllium. Employers must display these data sheets and display safety labels and notices, as well as providing training detailing the hazards inherent and the methods to be taken to defend against such dangers.
Controlling your personal habits is also essential. Never eat, drink, smoke while around beryllium dust or fumes. Clean your workspace thoroughly before and after a shift.
Remove street clothes and change into uniform and PPE before entering the work area. Dispose of your uniform properly before leaving work, and if possible, shower before leaving work. Finally, keep a separate pair of work boots on site; clean them before leaving and do not wear them when you return home.