Lead: understanding hazards, standards, and compliance

Lead is a major risk to those who work in construction. Overexposure can cause a number of health issues and can even be deadly. Because many construction, demolition, remodeling, and ship and bridge building and repair activities can create dangerous levels of airborne lead, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) created regulations to help limit workers’ exposure to this hazardous metal.

Following these regulations is critical for protecting workers and maintaining compliance. Protect employees by developing a lead safety program that follows OSHA’s protective standards and includes using the proper safety products.

Under OSHA standards, regulations require developing a worker protection program with hazard and exposure assessments. A written program is also required to ensure compliance with regulations.

According to OSHA, the permissible exposure limit (PEL) is “50 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air, as averaged over an 8-hour period.” When exposure is over the PEL, additional requirements apply, including:

• Control lead at its source with engineering controls and safe work practices
• Provide information and training to workers
• Ensure workers practice good personal hygiene, washing hands prior to eating or drinking, and showering before leaving the worksite
• Provide protective clothing and respiratory protection
• Participate in a medical surveillance program with medical exams and removal arrangements if a worker is exposed to high levels of lead
• Maintain records on exposure, monitoring, and removal of workers

After initial site testing has determined possible hazardous lead levels, the appropriate programs are in place, and workers are protected, monitoring the worksite and workers will need to be continued until lead removal, enclosure, replacement, or substitution is complete and airborne lead levels have dropped below the PEL. Understanding and complying with OSHA regulations will help reduce worker illness and injuries caused by lead.

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