Welding, sandblasting expose thousands of workers to beryllium daily

WRAPPING UP a three-blog series on the potentially harmful metallic element beryllium, we’d like focus this time on a couple of real-world scenarios for beryllium exposure — welding and sandblasting.

Beryllium, an officially designated human carcinogen, is among the leading topics of occupational safety and health news today because new federal standards for exposure to it are going to be enforced soon. Our first blog in this series focuses on the new final rule on occupational exposure to beryllium and the May 11, 2018, starting date for rule enforcement by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

A page on the OSHA website (find it here) provides a good overview about beryllium and notes that approximately 62,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 7,300 establishments in the United States. Among the workers with the highest average exposures to beryllium are welders and people involved with abrasive blasting.

In welding, the alloy copper beryllium commonly is used in metal bonding. A technical briefing paper by the Materion Corporation leads with the following:

“Welding provides the highest strength bond when joining copper beryllium to itself or to other metals. As with any joining process, properly prepared surfaces, selection of equipment and materials, and sound practice are key to insuring a reliable bond. Common resistance and arc welding techniques, as well as less conventional welding methods, can be applied to copper beryllium. The metallurgical advantages that copper beryllium offers are not lost as a result of welding. In fact, the strengthening mechanism inherent to copper beryllium makes it possible to weld without permanently weakening the alloy.”

Abrasive blasting is the correct general term to describe the common technique for removing old paint and rust from surfaces prior to new painting. Generally, it’s not “sand blasting,” because sand is just one of the abrasives that can be used in the blasting. The other most common abrasives are slags, the stony or glass-like waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore. When slags are used as the abrasive blasting element rather than sand, OSHA notes the following:

“Certain types of slags (coal, copper) used in abrasive blasting operations may contain trace amounts of beryllium (less than 1 percent by weight). Due to the high dust conditions inherent in abrasive blasting operations, workers involved in these activities may be exposed to dangerous levels of beryllium.”

In addition, a 2013 report by CPWR, the Center for Construction Research and Training, reminded the public about a 2003-2004 CPWR research study about abrasive blasting. The study findings, quoted in part below, were cause for some concern.

“Another unexpected finding of our study was that beryllium exposure is a concern when abrasive blasting with coal slag. We found beryllium was present at a concentration of 4 parts per million (ppm) in coal slag samples analyzed prior to blasting, and measured airborne beryllium concentrations of up to 9.5 μg/m3 during abrasive blasting tasks. The OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium is 2 μg/m3 in air. The NIOSH recommended exposure limit (REL), which is health‐based as opposed to the OSHA PEL which also considers the technical and economic feasibility of controlling exposure, is 0.5 μg/m3. The ACGIH Threshold Limit Value (TLV), which is also health-based and more recently updated, is 0.05 μg/m3. Based on these results, average exposures were almost 5 times the PEL and 19 times higher than the REL and TLV when coal slag was in use.”

A couple of documents we have for sharing shed more light on the subject of abrasive blasting and exposure to beryllium through the work. Click on the title of each of the following documents below to call up a PDF for reading and/or downloading.

As stated in our first blog about beryllium, team members here at Safety Solutions & Supply are up to date with OSHA’s new beryllium safety standards and prepared to share details about the final rule with current and future clients. We have the full capabilities to support clients with beryllium-related program development, exposure control, and exposure evaluations.

For general information about the safety services, training programs, and products we offer at Safety Solutions & Supply, please visit our website at https://solutionsinsafety.com/, or call us toll free at 1-866-537-2262.