Keeping Construction Workers Safe from Lead Exposure

It is the grave responsibility of business owners who hire construction workers who may be exposed to lead to be aware of the possible dangers for their employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has compliance requirements in place which these employers must meet to keep their employees safe from lead exposure.

Workers most in danger of being exposed to lead include painters, plumbers, and welders. The possibility of being exposed to lead-based paint also exists for workers renovating structures, and doing highway work and bridge repair. Also at risk are those doing demolition work and iron work. Recycling materials containing lead, such as televisions, cables, or items containing cathode ray tubes can also be harmful.

The health problems of those exposed to lead are severe. Lead poisoning can damage every system in the human body, including the reproductive system, the central nervous system, the hematological system, and the cardiovascular system. Lead poisoning may cause anemia, kidney disease, neurological and gastrointestinal illnesses. There are significant dangers from both short-term exposure and also long-term exposure.

The primary way lead poisons workers is when they inhale lead through dust and fumes. It can also damage the digestive system if it is ingested and enters by mouth.

Employers of construction workers need to be aware of the symptoms of overexposure to lead. Symptoms victims experience include irritability, headache, stomach pain, weakness and pain in the muscles, fatigue, reduced appetite, infrequent or difficult bowel movements, a taste in the mouth resembling metal, inability to sleep well, feeling anxious, feeling nauseated, paleness, and feeling dizzy or numb.

Alarmingly, workers who are exposed to lead can also harm the development of their children. It is extremely important for pregnant women not to be exposed to lead. Also, working mothers should not be exposed to lead while breastfeeding.

OSHA has established a permissible exposure limit (PEL) which regulates the amount of lead to which a worker may be exposed. All employers must make it their responsibility to become thoroughly knowledgeable about these limits.

It is the responsibility of the employers of construction workers to make themselves knowledgeable about every aspect of the problem, implement preventive measures, and have a system in place to monitor and maintain the measures put in place to protect their employees. The measures in place should include ongoing assessment of possible exposure, recommended work practices (such as washing with lead removal products, not eating or drinking near lead-containing products), compliance programs for each kind of job, protective equipment and clothing including boots, gloves and goggles, educating and training employees, established inspections of job sites by trained personnel, routine blood tests to measure blood lead levels, and implementing necessary hygiene practices.

Lead Procedures