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OSHA 1926.62 - Lead Hazards In Construction

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Written by Steve Hudgik

In 1914 Ernest Shackleton began an expedition to cross the Antarctic. On January 19, 1915 his ship, the Endurance, became frozen in the ice and was eventually crushed. On May 20, 1916 he arrived at the whaling station at Stromness on South Georgia Island, and a few days later all of his crew were rescued with no loss of life. They had survived for sixteen months on the ice of the Antarctic.

Experienced arctic explorer, Sir John Franklin, departed England in 1845 on his fourth Arctic expedition. The purpose of the expedition was to find the NW passage. His two ships became icebound in Victoria Strait in September 1846 and were crushed. Most of the crew survived until April 1848, but eventually the entire 128 man crew was lost.

What was the difference? Possibly lead poisoning. A new innovation, canned food, was used on the Franklin expedition. What was unknown at the time is that the lead used to solder the cans is a slow-acting poison that effects thinking and the ability to make good decisions.

Lead remains a serious hazard today. We no longer use lead to solder tin cans, but lead is still found in many materials. Construction workers, in particular those repairing, upgrading or demolishing existing structures, face the potential of being exposed to lead poisoning.

Construction Worker's Exposure To Lead

How are we exposed to lead poisoning today? The most common way is by lead containing dust that is inhaled. When construction workers breathe in lead containing materials as a dust, fume or mist, their lungs and upper respiratory tract absorb the lead into their bodies. Also, as happen to the Franklin expedition, lead can also absorbed through the digestive system. On a construction site, if lead containing dust settles on lunches, snacks or drink containers it may be ingested. Even licking your lips can ingest lead, if your lips have lead containing dust on them.

What Happens Once Lead Gets In Your Body?

When lead gets into the body it goes into the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body. Some of the lead will be excreted, but some will remain and be stored in various organs and body tissues. Once stored it generally does not leave the body. Continued exposure to lead, even at low levels, will result in a continually increasing concentration of lead in the body. This stored lead causes irreversible damage, first to individual cells, then to organs and whole body systems.

We only started to understand the dangers of lead and lead poisoning beginning in the late 20th century. We now know that even a small amount of lead will cause harm. There is no safe threshold for lead exposure. There is no known level of lead exposure that is too low to cause the harm.

The OSHA 1826.62 standard addresses the hazards of lead in the construction industry. The following is an overview of some of the key parts of OSHA 1926.62.

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A summary of the 12 most common PPE categories

OSHA 1926.62 - Lead Exposure Health Hazards

Lead is a heavy metal that is solid at room temperature. A basic chemical element, it can combine with various other substances to form numerous lead compounds.

Lead can damage the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, hematological system and kidneys. When absorbed into the body in high enough doses lead can be immediately toxic.

In addition, workers' lead exposure can harm their unborn children's development.

The effects of lead poisoning can be immediate. Short-term severe overexposure, happening over just a few days, can cause acute encephalopathy, a condition affecting the brain that results in seizures, coma, and death from cardiorespiratory arrest. Short-term occupational exposures of this type are very rare, but not impossible.

What is more common is slow, long-term exposure that goes unnoticed until it is too late. Extended, long-term (chronic) overexposure to lead can result in severe damage to the central nervous system, particularly the brain. It can also damage the blood-forming, urinary, and reproductive systems.

OSHA 1926.62 - Symptoms Of Chronic Lead Overexposure

Some of the common symptoms chronic exposure to lead include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain or soreness
  • Fine tremors
  • Weakness
  • Nervous irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Colic with severe abdominal pain
  • Pallor
  • Insomnia
  • Numbness
  • Dizziness

OSHA 1926.62 - Construction Workers and Lead Exposure

Residential, commercial and office buildings are common locations where lead is frequently encountered in roofs, cornices, tank linings and electrical conduits. It is also found in older plumbing where soft solder was used for soldering tinplate and copper pipe joints. (Soft solder is now banned for many uses in the United States.). Lead is frequently found in older paints used in homes, offices and commercial buildings. Lead-based paint in no longer used in residential buildings, but because lead-based paint inhibits rusting and corrosion of iron and steel, lead paint continues to be used on bridges, railways, ships, lighthouses, and other steel structures.

The greatest potential for lead exposure in construction comes from paint. A small project, such as removing paint from a few old interior residential doors, may involve a limited exposure to lead. However, other types of projects, such as removing or stripping substantial quantities of lead-based paint from bridges and other large structures, can involve extensive exposure to lead.

OSHA 1926.62 - The Most Vulnerable Workers

Workers potentially at risk for lead exposure include those involved in iron work; demolition work; painting; lead-based paint abatement; plumbing; heating and air conditioning maintenance and repair; electrical work; building renovation, and remodeling work. Plumbers, welders, and painters are among those workers with the greatest risk of exposure to lead. Significant lead exposures also can result from removing paint from surfaces previously coated with lead-based paint such as bridges, older residences being renovated, and structures being demolished or salvaged.

According to OSHA the workers at the highest risk of lead exposure are those involved in two types of work:

  • Abrasive blasting of painted iron or steel structures
  • Welding, cutting, and burning on painted iron or steel structures.

OSHA also identifies other types of work that has the potential to expose workers to lead:

  • Manual demolition of structures
  • Spray painting with lead-based paint
  • Cleanup activities where dry expendable abrasives are used
  • Movement and removal of abrasive blasting enclosures
  • Using lead-containing mortar
  • Power tool cleaning without dust collection systems
  • Rivet busting
  • Manual dry scraping and sanding
  • Manual demolition of structures
  • Heat-gun applications
  • Lead burning
  • Power tool cleaning with dust collection systems

OSHA 1926.62 Establishes Employer Responsibilities For Protecting Workers

Employers of construction workers are responsible for developing and implementing a worker protection program. At a minimum, the employer's worker protection program for employees potentially exposed to lead above the Personal Exposure Limit (PEL) should include:

  • Hazard determination, including exposure assessment
  • Medical surveillance and provisions for medical removal
  • Posting of warning and informational labels and signs
  • Employee information and training
  • Job-specific compliance programs
  • Engineering and work practice controls
  • Respiratory protection
  • Protective clothing and equipment
  • Housekeeping
  • Hygiene facilities and practices
  • Record keeping

Because lead is a cumulative and persistent toxic substance, and it may take prolonged periods of exposure before negative health efforts are evident, employers must use the above precautions--where feasible--to minimize employee exposure to lead. In addition, OSHA states that the employer should, as needed, consult a qualified safety and health professional to develop and implement an effective, site-specific worker protection program. These professionals may work independently or may be associated with an insurance carrier, trade organization, or on-site consultation program.

OSHA 1926.62 - Employee Information and Training

OSHA requires the employer to inform employees about lead hazards in compliance with the requirements of OSHA's Hazard Communication standard for the construction industry, 29 CFR 1926.59. This includes, but is not limited to the requirements for warning signs and labels, availability of material safety data sheets (MSDSs), and employee information and training.

Lead Exposure Warning Signs And Labels

Pre-printed lead hazard warning signs are commonly available from companies such as Graphic Products (the DuraLabel brand).

However, in many circumstances using custom signs, with messages tailored to the specific location and hazard are more effective for promoting safety. Making custom safety signs to ensure complete compliance with OSHA 1926 is made easier when you have a custom label printer such as the DuraLabel TORO. The DuraLabel TORO is the only four inch standalone, battery-powered custom label printer. Wherever you are, whatever the situation, with the TORO you can quickly and easily make the labels and signs you need.

Call 1-888-326-9244 today and ask for information about the DuraLabel TORO.

The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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