Lead: Still a Hazard
OSHA estimates that more than 1.5 million workers are potentially exposed to lead as a result of their jobs. Workers are exposed to lead during the production, use, maintenance, recycling, and disposal of lead material and products. Lead exposure occurs in most industry sectors including construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation, remediation and even recreation.
Lead poses a possible hazard that workers need to be aware of and know how to recognize. Lead can be found in many occupational settings and tasks such as painting, metal scrap cutting and recycling, non-ferrous foundry work, smelting, fabricated plate work, copper foundries, die-casting shops, brass & bronze ingot manufacturing, building renovation, bridge work, demolition, battery manufacturing, ceramic work, soldering and plumbing.
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.
Why is lead so dangerous? According to OSHA, lead harms the brain, nervous system, blood, and kidneys. Low levels of lead in the blood may cause learning and behavioral problems in children under the age of six, and some harmful effects of lead are permanent.
Workers may not know they are contaminated because symptoms of this health hazard may take time to develop following exposure to the lead containing material. In addition, workers that come in contact with lead during demolition, paint removal, or even welding and grinding operations could accidentally take lead home on their clothes and expose their families to this dangerous substance.
Only workers who are specially trained and equipped can work with lead. An annual training requirement should be established for all employees who may come in contact with lead in the workplace.
If lead exposure is a potential hazard, a safety meeting on this issue is essential for worker awareness and welfare. These points should be emphasized:
- Never enter a known contaminated area without proper training and personal protective equipment.
- Only workers who are specially trained and equipped can work with or perform removal or demolition work with lead containing materials.
- Ensure the workplace is frequently vacuumed to reduce lead exposure.
- Recognize and follow posted warning signs in affected areas where the PEL (permissible exposure limit) is exceeded.
- Never leave a contaminated area without following the correct safety procedures including clothing removal, washing and tool clean-up.
- Proper protective equipment (PPE) must be worn at all times.
- Good housekeeping and hygiene practices prevent surface contamination and protect workers from ingesting and taking home lead that would lead to further exposure.
- Workers that handle lead-containing materials may have to go through blood-level testing before and after the work to make sure they haven't absorbed lead into their body.
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