Lead Exposure Awareness
Did you know that lead was one of the first metals used by humans, and consequently, was the cause of the first recorded occupational disease (lead colic in a 4th century BC metal worker)? Chances are we all have come into contact with lead at some point in our lives.
Lead is a solid and naturally occurring metal. The primary use of lead in the U.S. is for automotive lead-acid storage batteries, a type of rechargeable electric battery which uses an almost pure lead alloy. Lead-formed alloys are typically found in ammunition, pipes, cable covering, building material, solder, radiation shielding, collapsible tubes, and fishing weights. Lead is also used in ceramic glazes and as a stabilizer in plastics.
Prior to 1977, lead was used extensively as a corrosion inhibitor and pigment in paints. However, concerns over its toxicity led to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC ) ban of lead paint from residential and public buildings. Prior to the mid-1980s, the organic lead compounds tetramethyl lead and tetraethyl lead were used as an antiknock additive and octane booster in gasoline, but environmental exposure concerns resulted in the gradual phase-out of leaded gasoline in the U.S.
Effects of Lead Exposure
Lead enters the body primarily through inhalation and ingestion. Lead passes through the lungs into the blood where it can harm many of the body's organ systems. While inorganic lead does not readily enter the body through the skin, it can enter the body through accidental ingestion such as eating, drinking, and smoking via contaminated hands, clothing, and surfaces. As it leaches into the blood system, workers may develop a variety of ailments, such as neurological effects, gastrointestinal effects, anemia, and kidney disease.
Industries Impacted by Lead Exposure
Lead exposure occurs in most industry sectors, including:
• Wholesale trade
• Lead remediation
A variety of workers and associated occupations within these industries may not only expose themselves to lead, but also create indirect exposure to others at home such as by taking home lead dust on their clothing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlines employer compliance requirements regarding lead exposure contained within:
See Appendix A for the Substance data sheet for occupational exposure to lead.
See Appendix B for the Employee standard summary.
See Appendix C for Medical surveillance guidelines.
The OSHA lead standards are very lengthy and contain detailed information that employers should reference when developing their employee lead exposure program. A program is an employer implemented and established system of managing, developing, delivering, evaluating and documenting compliance and industry best practice procedures and techniques regarding the protection of employees against workplace hazards.
Here are the basic section breakdowns of the OSHA lead standard:
- Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs)- Employers shall assure that no employee is exposed to lead at concentrations greater than fifty micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 ug/m3) averaged over an 8-hour period.
- Exposure Monitoring- If the employee is not wearing a respirator, the employer shall collect full shift (for at least 7 continuous hours) personal samples including at least one sample for each shift for each job classification in each work area. There is also information on frequencies and employee notification of exposure.
- Methods of Compliance- This section includes engineering, administrative, and work practice controls.
- Respiratory Protection- Employers should also reference OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.134 for information on respiratory protection.
- Protective Work Clothing and Equipment- Includes cleaning, laundering, and replacement of clothing and equipment.
- Housekeeping- Includes cleaning, hygiene facilities, and practices, change rooms, showers, lunchrooms, and lavatories.
- Medical Surveillance- Critical information includes frequencies of biological monitoring, blood sample testing, medical examinations, and consultations and chelation therapy.
- Medical Removal Protection- Guidelines for employee removal and return based on blood lead levels.
- Employee Information and Training- Outlines initial and annual training requirements.
- Communication of Hazards- Reference to OSHA Hazard Communication Standard 29 CFR 1910.1200. Includes elements such as signs, labels, and safety data sheets (SDSs).
- Recordkeeping Requirements- Includes the availability and transfer of records.
- Observation and Monitoring- The employer shall provide affected employees or their designated representatives an opportunity to observe any monitoring of employee exposure to lead.
For more information on how employers can protect workers from lead exposure, please visit OSHA’s Lead Safety and Health Topics page.
State and Local Requirements
It is especially important to note that for contractors involved in operations such as renovation, repair, alteration, and painting, many states and local city/town ordinances have their own specific lead certification requirements for companies and individuals. Be sure to check with your local regulations. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also published compliance materials within their website.