Protecting People at Work
Cobalt is manufactured and used in different forms in the workplace: via plating, formulating, manufacturing of chemicals and in alloys. Workers may be exposed to cobalt in the form of chunks, pellets and powders, as well as to cobalt compounds such as cobalt salts. The production of batteries, alloys and hard metal tools also involves the use of cobalt. The Cobalt Institute estimates approximately 80,000 workers in the EU – 0.04% of the total EU workforce – are exposed to cobalt and cobalt compounds.
Cobalt substances (e.g. those used as intermediates or catalyst precursor) are generally used in highly controlled industrial settings where risk management measures/level of automation lead to significant reductions of exposure.
Exposures to cobalt in the workplace have continuously and significantly decreased over the past decades. Current industry practices guarantee that workers are not exposed to cobalt at a level that is considered harmful. Exposure to each cobalt substance is described and documented in REACH and other global regulations. The cobalt industry strictly abides by these rules.
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has recommended a threshold limit value (TLV; the level of a substance that a worker can be exposed to daily, for a working lifetime, without adverse effects) of 0.02 mg Co/m3 for occupational exposure of cobalt.
To ensure this threshold is respected, the exposure to cobalt in the workplace is monitored and controlled. This can be achieved by air monitoring (i.e. analyzing particles of material in the air) and biological monitoring (i.e. measuring cobalt concentration in the body).
Limiting the exposure to cobalt in the workplace can be achieved by installing engineering controls, improving ventilation, automation of processes, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Exposure levels can also be controlled by the use of physical forms that have a low emission (to air) potential (e.g. wetted or liquid forms). The exposure of workers to cobalt and cobalt substances is minimised as much as practically possible.