Lead is an element found in the environment; it’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil on which we live. It’s a heavy metal used in a variety of products, including paint, pipes, building materials, stained glass, rechargeable batteries, radiators, and products containing brass and bronze alloys. However, its use has been eliminated from many products over the years because of its toxicity. Exposure to lead can damage the kidneys, nervous, immune, and reproductive systems and possibly cause cancer. Lead exposure is maintained at an acceptable level if good housekeeping, safe work practices, and other forms of administrative controls are
• How can lead harm you?
• How can you protect yourself from lead exposure?
• Name some potential lead hazards found in your work area;
• What is PEL?
• List some engineering controls for lead protection.
Workers may come in contact with lead fumes during welding and soldering processes and lead dust during grinding, cutting, and demolition operations. Lead can enter the body through inhalation or absorption. Workers must know what elements they are working with and the risk and hazards involved, especially with potential lead contamination on clothes and their bodies. It’s important to follow safe work practices that include changing clothes and cleaning up before leaving the facility.
Employers are required to protect workers from inorganic lead exposure under OSHA lead standards. The lead standards establish a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of fifty micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over an 8-hour period for all employees. The standards also set an action level of 30 micrograms per cubic meter, at which an employer must begin specific compliance activities, including blood lead testing for exposed workers. The lead standards also include secondary provisions such as medical surveillance, exposure monitoring, and control measures that are critical in preventing lead exposure and elevated blood lead levels.
For more lead information, and standard requirements view OSHA’s website-lead standards page. Lead exposure can be maintained at acceptable levels by following exposure control practices. Engineering controls include isolating the exposure source or using other engineering methods, such as local exhaust ventilation. Administrative controls usually involve logistic or workforce actions such as limiting the amount of time a worker performs work involving potential exposure to lead. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) includes wearing the proper respiratory protection and clothing, good housekeeping, and no drinking, eating, or smoking in the work area. Workers who may be exposed to lead should check with their employers to see if blood lead level testing is offered. For more information workers can visit National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
As always, be safe out there!