Safe work practices and protective equipment for effective lead safety

Starting a worker protection program to help prevent lead exposure and maintain OSHA compliance means the right safety practices and protective gear are needed.

Engineering controls and work practices that control lead at its source are the best methods for preventing lead exposure. There are a number of ways to do this, including:

• Create a negative pressure ventilation system to provide clean air while reducing contamination outside the lead containing area • Cover or enclose areas with wallboard, paneling, or exterior siding, and cover floors coated with lead-based paint with vinyl flooring to contain hazardous lead dusts
• Encapsulate exposed lead covered surfaces with a flexible wall covering or an acrylic or epoxy coating
• Equip tools with attachments that ensure dust is filtered through a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum system
• When applying a lead-based paint or coating, use a brush or roller to avoid creating a hazardous mist
• Heat guns should be equipped with controls and nozzles that limit the temperature and size of the area being heated

In cases where engineering controls are in the process of being installed or do not provide enough protection, a variety of personal protective equipment (PPE) is required for workers.

PPE includes respiratory protection that is used to keep workers from breathing lead-containing dust. Respirators are needed any time the lead concentration at a worksite rises over the permissible exposure limit (PEL). Respirators provide protection when they are fitted properly and do not allow leakage. To ensure a respirator fits properly, a fit test is required before an employee begins wearing a respirator.

Clean, dry protective clothing is also required for crews exposed to lead. Appropriate protective clothing includes coveralls and hard hats. After use, clothing to be cleaned needs to be placed in a closed container labeled with the following warning: "Caution: Clothing contaminated with lead. Do not remove dust by blowing or shaking. Dispose of lead-contaminated wash water in accordance with applicable local, state, or federal regulations."

Protective equipment may include shoes or shoe covers, goggles or faceshields with protective safety glasses, work gloves, and welding or abrasive blasting helmets.

With the proper practices and safety equipment, employers can help reduce lead-related illness and death.

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