Visit OSHA's Beryllium Rulemaking page for information on the final rule and related rulemaking.
The element beryllium is a grey metal that is stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum. Its physical properties of great strength-to-weight, high melting point, excellent thermal stability and conductivity, reflectivity, and transparency to X-rays make it an essential material in the aerospace, telecommunications, information technology, defense, medical, and nuclear industries. Beryllium is classified as a strategic and critical material by the U.S. Department of Defense. In 2014, the U.S. produced 270 metric tons of beryllium domestically and imported 68 metric tons, increases from 2013 of 15% and 19% respectively. Government stockpile release is another source of beryllium. Bertrandite (<1% beryllium) is the principal mineral mined for beryllium in the U.S. while beryl (4% beryllium) is the principal mineral mined for beryllium in the rest of the world.
Beryllium is used industrially in three forms: as a pure metal, as beryllium oxide, and most commonly, as an alloy with copper, aluminum, magnesium, or nickel. Beryllium oxide (called beryllia) is known for its high heat capacity and is an important component of certain sensitive electronic equipment. Beryllium alloys are classified into two types: high beryllium content (up to 30% beryllium) and low beryllium content (2 - 3% beryllium). Copper-beryllium alloy is commonly used to make bushings, bearings, and springs. Beryllium is also found as a trace metal in slags and fly ash.
This page offers guidance that may be useful to workers and employers across a number of industries.
Why is beryllium a hazard to workers?
Workers in industries where beryllium is present may be exposed to beryllium by inhaling or contacting beryllium in the air or on surfaces. Inhaling or contacting beryllium can cause an immune response that results in an individual becoming sensitized to beryllium. Individuals with beryllium sensitization are at risk for developing a debilitating disease of the lungs called chronic beryllium disease (CBD) if they inhale airborne beryllium after becoming sensitized. Beryllium-exposed workers may also develop other adverse health effects such as acute beryllium disease, and lung cancer. See the Health Effects section in the preamble of the Beryllium Final Rule for more information.
What is OSHA doing to protect workers from exposure to beryllium?
OSHA’s final rule for beryllium requires employers in general industry, construction, and shipyards to implement protective measures for workers who are exposed to beryllium. For more information on the compliance dates and requirements of the beryllium standards for general industry, construction, and shipyards see OSHA’s final rulemaking webpage.
Who is exposed to beryllium in the workplace?
OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 7,300 establishments in the United States. While the highest exposures occur in the workplace, family members of workers who work with beryllium also have potential exposure from contaminated work clothing and vehicles. Based on OSHA Integrated Management Information System and industry exposure data, beryllium workers in primary beryllium manufacturing and alloy production, and recycling have the highest average exposures to beryllium. Occupations with potential exposure to beryllium include:
- Primary Beryllium Production Workers
- Workers Processing Beryllium Metal/Alloys/Composites
- Foundry Workers
- Furnace Tenders
- Machine Operators
- Metal Fabricators
- Dental Technicians
- Secondary smelting and refining (recycling electronic and computer parts, metals)
- Abrasive Blasters (slags)
Certain types of slags (coal, copper) used in abrasive blasting operations may contain trace amounts of beryllium (<0.1 % 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.
Where is beryllium used?
End products1 containing beryllium and beryllium compounds are used in many industries including:
- Aerospace (aircraft braking systems, engines, satellites, space telescope)
- Automotive (anti- lock brake systems, ignitions)
- Ceramic manufacturing (rocket covers, semiconductor chips)
- Defense (components for nuclear weapons, missile parts, guidance systems, optical systems)
- Dental labs (alloys in crowns, bridges, and dental plates)
- Electronics (x- rays, computer parts, telecommunication parts, automotive parts)
- Energy (microwave devices, relays)
- Medicine (laser devices, electro-medical devices, X-ray windows)
- Nuclear energy (heat shields, reactors)
- Sporting goods (golf clubs, bicycles)
- Telecommunications (optical systems, wireless base stations)
Exposure to beryllium via inhalation of airborne beryllium or skin contact with beryllium-containing dust, fume, mist, or solutions can cause health effects.
OSHA Standards and Enforcement
Beryllium is addressed in OSHA standards for general industry, maritime, and construction.
- Protecting Workers' from Exposure to Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds: Final Rule Overview. OSHA Fact Sheet (Publication 3821), (2017).
- Medical Surveillance for Beryllium-Exposed Workers. OSHA Fact Sheet (Publication 3822), (2017).
1 This list describes end uses of products containing beryllium, not sources of beryllium exposure. Exposures to beryllium occur in the processing of beryllium-containing materials to produce these end products, not in the use of these end products in their finished form.