The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identified 6,160 cases of blood lead levels (BLLs) ≥10 μg/dL in adults. Of the 6,160 cases, the construction industry accounted for 20 percent — a disproportionately high number given that the construction industry accounts for 6.4 percent of the workforce.
Although the prevalence of construction workers with BLLs ≥10 μg/dL has continued to decline, a substantial number of construction workers still have alarming blood lead levels due to workplace exposure. In this article, an OSHA attorney will discuss the importance of complying with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) lead standard and how you can reduce the risk for lead exposure on your jobsite.
Lead is found in a number of construction materials, including but not limited to electrical conduit, welding wire, roofing materials, cornices, tank linings, and paint. Construction workers can become exposed to lead during a number of processes, such as:
- Handling and demolition of products containing lead
- Abrasive blasting
- Welding, cutting, and burning on steel structures
- Rivet busting
- Power tool cleaning
- Removal of lead-based paint from structures
Construction workers are also at risk of exposing their family members to lead via take-home exposure found in lead dust on their clothing, hair, skin, or tools.
Lead exposure resulting in blood lead levels (BLL) even as low as 10 µg/dL has been associated with damage to the central nervous system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, hematological system, and the excretory system. Lead exposure can be broken down into two categories: short-term (acute) overexposure and long-term (chronic) overexposure. Both forms of exposure are extremely dangerous and come with unique risks.
Acute overexposure can cause a number of conditions from acute encephalopathy and cardiorespiratory arrest to coma and/or death. Chronic exposure can result in severe damage over time to the central nervous system as well as the excretory and reproductive systems.
OSHA’s Lead Standard
OSHA’S lead standard for the construction industry (1926.62) requires employers to develop, implement, and maintain a worker protection program that minimizes workers’ risk to lead exposure on the jobsite. It sets a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air and action level (AL) of airborne concentration of 30µg/m3. Both are averaged over an eight-hour period. Other major aspects of the standard’s requirements include:
- Employees exposed to high levels of lead must be enrolled in a medical surveillance program.
- Employers must use engineering controls and work practices to reduce exposure.
- Employees must observe good personal hygiene practices, especially before leaving the jobsite.
- Employees must be provided with protective clothing and respiratory protection as necessary.
The information above is only a brief overview of OSHA’s regulations regarding lead exposure in construction. It is your responsibility as a contractor to ensure your workers are protected from potential hazards like lead that could lead to serious health concerns. If you are concerned about whether or not your jobsite is compliant with OSHA’s standard for lead in the construction industry, consult with one of our OSHA lawyers.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.