Number 8 highest penalties assessed by OSHA for 2010 is: Lead, general industry (29 CFR 1910.1025).  Lead is an ingredient found in thousands of products widely used throughout industry, including paints, solder, electrical fittings, tank linings, plumbing fixtures and metal alloys.  Many homes have been painted with lead-containing paints.  Significant lead exposures can also occur when paint is removed from surfaces previously covered with lead-based paint.  OSHA’s regulations governing construction worker exposure to lead include the development and implementation of a worker protection program in accordance with Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations.  Some projects may have only limited exposure, while others involve more exposures, thus, companies must use engineering controls and work practices to reduce worker exposure. 

  •          Workers must be required to practice good personal hygiene practices, such as washing hands before eating and taking a shower before leaving the worksite. 
  •          They must be provided with protective clothing and when necessary, with respiratory protection.
  •          The permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour period.
  •          Employees exposed to high levels of lead must be required to enroll in a medical surveillance program. 

Hundreds of workers will be involved in cleaning up after the floods that are flowing through many states at this time.  Both workers and volunteers will be renovating and repairing, or tearing down and disposing of, damaged or destroyed structures and materials.  These types of operations many times generate dangerous airborne concentrations of lead, a metal that can cause damage to the nervous system, kidneys, blood forming organs, and reproductive system if inhaled or ingested in dangerous quantities.  All persons involved should take the proper precautions and wear protective clothing, and use respiratory products.  Other operations that may generate lead dust and fumes are:

  • Flame-torch cutting;
  • Welding;
  • Demolition of structures;
  • Abrasive blasting of steel structures;
  • Use of heat guns, sanders, scrapers, or grinders to remove lead paint. 

Although we have been discussing the penalties associated with work-related violations, I want to share this information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, regarding other ways we are exposed to lead.  One out of every eleven children in the United States has dangerous levels of lead in their bloodstream. Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead.  People can get lead in their body if they: put their hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths, eat paint chips or soil that contain lead, or breathe in lead dust (especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces).  Lead is even more dangerous to children than adults because children’s growing bodies absorb more lead and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.  If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from: damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems (such as hyperactivity), slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches.  This is just one of the reasons we need to be cautious about toys or play-jewelry that may contain lead.

Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from difficulties during pregnancy and other reproductive problems (in both men and women). Other effects are high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain. Lead can affect the body in many ways. 

On the job – as stated earlier, if you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your clothes separately from the rest of your family’s.

  • Miscellaneous Sources – old painted toys and furniture.
  • Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain.
  • Lead smelters or other industries that release lead into the air.
  • Hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture.

So, let’s “get the lead out,” and get serious about the consequences of lead exposure.  Also, wish for this violation to  be excluded from next year’s list of highest penalties assessed by OSHA.

Sources: OSHA, CPSC