Sustainability Case Studies

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2007 — Health and Safety

Protecting employees from beryllium


The Baie-Comeau and Bécancour aluminum smelters have implemented special measures to protect all employees from the dangers of beryllium exposure. This element, contained in alumina, accumulates and concentrates in the electrolytic bath of pots during aluminum production. The bath residues are eventually ground up for reuse. It is at this stage that beryllium becomes a health and safety issue, because inhaling this dust may lead to berylliosis, a serious lung disease. The presence of beryllium is not an issue at the Deschambault smelter, but precautions have to be taken at the Baie-Comeau and Bécancour smelters.
 
In 2001, the Baie-Comeau smelter started an occupational health and safety (OHS) program specifically targeting beryllium. It began at the source, by identifying a new supplier of alumina containing less beryllium. This immediately made a big difference.
 
Every workstation was then evaluated. When it was determined that a worker – including a subcontractor–could be at risk, Alcoa supplied work clothes and arranged to have these clothes cleaned by a specialized supplier. To this same end, the plant is now studying a project to overhaul the locker and shower rooms so as to minimize carrying of beryllium outside the plant.
 
Those in charge of the project have also improved the ventilation and dust-removal systems in the highest risk areas. Added to these measures are personal protective equipment, cleaning stations for clothing, and medical monitoring for sensitivity to beryllium. As well, all processes and work methods, from production through maintenance, have been reviewed. Finally, processes have been implemented for decontaminating mobile equipment and equipment belonging to subcontractors, and a dust-removal system has been installed in the warehouse.
 
An internal beryllium committee, which includes a member of the provincial health and safety commission (Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail-CSST), assures that the program is well managed.
 
The Bécancour smelter (ABI) shares the same concern for protecting its workers. For this reason, it has also implemented an OHS program for beryllium. Several of the best practices adopted at Baie-Comeau have been adopted at the Bécancour plant, including reduction of beryllium at the source, identification of work stations at risk, improvement of ventilation and dust-removal systems, supervision of the production process, personal protection equipment, medical monitoring, etc. Particular attention has been paid to raising employee awareness.
 
As with all important health and safety issues, the Baie-Comeau and Bécancour teams remain vigilant in their search for improvements.
Dust collector
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Dust collector


Worker in prebake plant, Baie-Comeau smelter
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Worker in prebake plant, Baie-Comeau smelter


Worker in Söderberg plant
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Worker in Söderberg plant