Key Elements of the Be Responsible Program
Recommended Exposure Guideline (REG)
The Recommended Exposure Guideline (REG) used in Be Responsible is 0.6 microgram of beryllium per cubic meter of air (µg/m³) (Inhalable), measured as an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) and recommends that exposure levels be maintained reliably below the REG. The REG has been substantiated in a number of workplace studies. Even with the REG, Be Responsible encourages reducing exposures to the lowest level that is feasible and practical. It is also recommended that a short term REG of 2.0 µg/m³ over 15 minutes be utilized as a tool for keeping workers protected from high exposures. The short term REG is based primarily upon the findings of a study conducted at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the UK.
The Beryllium Industry has developed Safety Practices for operations processing beryllium-containing products that are most frequently performed in the EU. However, it is recommended that users examine available engineering and process control technologies and employ practicable methods to reduce airborne beryllium concentrations, where appropriate. It is expected that engineering and work practice controls may not be completely effective in many applications hence respirator use may be required. The Be Responsible program focuses on protecting the employee first with respiratory protection rather than waiting for the implementation of improved engineering or work practice controls.
Be Responsible is generally premised upon reducing beryllium exposures using all available methods. In most instances, the application of engineering and work practice controls should be able to reduce exposure levels for most operations and tasks to levels below the REG. It is recognized there are processes such as; melting, powder handling and arc furnace operations that, even with extensive engineering controls, have exposure potentials exceeding 2.0 µg/m³. As an engineering and work practice control limit, the REG is a useful benchmark in this regard; however, where it is feasible to reduce workplace concentrations to levels below the REG, it is prudent to do so.
It must be noted that the studies that support the REG are based on the closed faced filter cassette total sampling method (CFC) as is used in the United States and many other countries. Some member states measure exposures to beryllium and other metals using the inhalable sampling method. This method collects much larger particles and therefore generally gives results 2-3 times higher than that of the CFC. Materion, the world’s largest producer of beryllium products and member of BeST, sponsored the most comprehensive sampling method comparison study ever conducted. The study concluded a conversion factor of 2.89 was appropriate for the copper beryllium operations most commonly conducted in Europe.
Be Responsible will contain beryllium health and safety training information consistent with the evolving science relative to protecting workers.
BeST will continue to encourage and promote research on beryllium health and safety. The research will attempt to identify specifically the preeminent casual factors that lead to or increase the risk of chronic beryllium disease (CBD). In this regard, it is expected that the influences of chemical form, surface area, particles size and particle number will continue to be evaluated. Because CBD is a granulomatous lung disease confined primarily to the alveolar region of the lung, it has been proposed by some scientists that CBD is not caused by particles greater than 10 µm in diameter, which are unable to deposit in the tracheobronchial region of the lung. Some researchers suggested the dose-response relationship between beryllium exposure and CBD might be obscured by CFC measurements. It was observed that the particle size characteristics varied depending on the type of beryllium process. For process areas that were associated with a size distribution of particles greater than 5 µm, there were fewer reported cases of CBD and sensitization compared to process areas that measured the greatest distribution of particles less than 5 µm. Therefore, sampling respirable particles may be a better predictor (exposure metric) for CBD than CFC method of airborne beryllium particles. There are no studies that would validate the use of the inhalable sampling method.
It has also been suggested that CBD may be linked to genetics and the advances in genetic research may alter or refine existing practices. While many aspects of the etiology of CBD are still unclear, researchers have identified a genetic marker that appears to significantly increase the probability that a worker will develop CBD. Future research is needed as it could benefit workers who are highly susceptible to avoid beryllium exposure in the workplace.
Beryllium, in consumer products, has a low potential for causing consumer health or environmental risk. While the general population is exposed to beryllium in soils, water and foodstuffs on a daily basis, the most predominant source of airborne beryllium is from the combustion of coal. Uses in consumer applications do not pose exposure risks because either the beryllium-containing part or structure is not easily accessible or the part remains as a solid structure through its useful life. Materion has conducted a number of studies in electronic scrap recycling process which have shown that beryllium exposure profiles present little risk, if any, to workers. BeST will continue to monitor end use applications for beryllium-containing products so that health and end of life exposure risks continue to be minimal.
BeST calls for a partnership with authorities, trade unions and trade associations to meet periodically to review the latest available information on beryllium and the overall effectiveness of this Program. The members of BeST agree to share and discuss significant developments in the scientific and medical assessment of beryllium products. It is anticipated that member state authorities will provide summary information on inspections and an assessment of overall compliance and to make the information gained through this Program publicly available.