Prevent On-the-Job Lead Exposure
Written by Jack Rubinger
Though nearly everyone's familiar with the potential hazards of lead-based paint, lead can also be found in such unlikely places as lipstick and even toys. A common misconception is that lead toxicity is a problem of the distant past, a problem confined only to areas of urban blight. Lead exposure can cause convulsions, coma, and even death.
But how do you protect yourself at work?
"It would depend on the job and source of lead," said Joel M. Cohen, The Cohen Group.
Inhaling lead dust and fumes can cause lead poisoning. This exposure may be brought into the home, to families, when workers bring home lead dust on their boots and overalls.
Industries where lead exposure is most likely include:
- Auto radiator repair
- Ship building
- Recycling scrap metal
- Leaded glass or crystal manufacturing
Fortunately, we have OSHA to thank for protection—if businesses comply.
“The OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1926.62 requires that employers provide exposure assessment air monitoring. Air monitoring results are then compared to the Action Level and the Permissible Exposure Limit. Based on the tasks workers are performing, respiratory protection is selected and decontamination procedures are established. Personal air sampling is performed to assess whether respiratory protection is adequate. Blood testing is also required for workers performing lead impacting activities,” said Rod Schafer, Schafer Environmental Consulting, Inc.
“Signs are posted at the entrance to lead abatement work areas per OSHA requirements,” said Schafer.
Lead exposure warning signs should include emergency phone numbers and other critical medical contact information. Extra-large custom signs and labels can be created at job sites using a DuraLabel printer – which is faster and can be more cost-effective than purchasing pre-made signs.
“A little known fact about lead exposure is that OSHA requirements do not only apply to lead based paint, but to any paint or coating that contains detectable lead. Most contractors are not aware of the OSHA Lead Construction Standard requirements and most abatement contractors are not in compliance with airborne lead exposure assessment sampling requirements. Since OSHA rarely enforces compliance with the standard, most contractors believe performing exposure monitoring is a waste of money and therefore don't collect personal air samples, preferring instead to risk noncompliance ,” said Schafer.Ronald D. Schaible from Robson Forensic added these points:
- Lead exposure occurs when lead dust or fumes are inhaled, or when lead is ingested via contaminated hands, food, water, cigarettes or clothing.
- Lead entering the respiratory and digestive systems is released to the blood and distributed throughout the body.
- More than 90% of the total body burden of lead is accumulated in the bones, where it is stored.
- Lead in bones may be released into the blood, re-exposing organ systems long after the original exposure.
- A common myth is that since lead has been taken out of gasoline in the U.S. and is rarely used in indoor house paint in new homes, the chances of being exposed are now very slim. Unfortunately this is not the case.
- Lead is a heavy metal and causes brain disorders even in low concentrations. Children exposed to lead have lower IQs.
If your job potentially exposes you to lead, follow these guidelines:
- Wash your hands before touching your face or eating
- Wear personal protection equipment (PPE)
- Shower, wash hair and change into clean clothes before leaving work
- Keep street clothes in a locker away from work clothes
- Do not bring personal items to work
- Do not bring drinks or food into the lead contaminated area