Look around your neighbourhood and you will likely see a construction, demolition or renovation project underway. Professionals are working on some of these projects and the homeowners themselves are tackling others. When a wall is knocked down or an old door is sanded for painting, there is a chance for workers to be exposed to toxic lead. This exposure may also follow workers home, when they unintentionally bring it home on their clothes and expose their family.
Lead is a metal used in the manufacture of many consumer products. You can find it in some paints, as well as lead pipes and types of crystal. Before the 1980s, lead was added to paint. If a building has been renovated a number of times over the years, it could have a number of paint layers where lead may be found. Buildings built before the 1960s have a higher chance of containing lead paint.
A highly toxic material, lead has been linked to severe neurological disorders and cancer. Left alone, lead in paint doesn’t pose a threat, however when it is disturbed, lead particles can be inhaled and ingested which over time can severely damage the central and peripheral nervous systems, and cause other health problems. In addition, lead from pipes can leach into the water. Homes in older neighbourhoods may wish to test and/or replace the drinking water pipes both inside the home, as well as the line between the municipal system and the home.
The most common ways that workers are exposed to lead are through inhalation and by accidental ingestion. Small airborne lead particles in the form of fumes, dusts, and mists can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. Larger particles are trapped in the upper respiratory tract, cleared from the lungs, and subsequently swallowed. Ingestion can occur if the particles get into food or drinks, or if you eat or smoke without washing your hands first. Lead is not normally absorbed through the skin unless there is a break in the skin such as a cut or scrape.
Because lead is still present in many old homes, removing lead-based paint by sanding, scraping or demolishing painted items (e.g., walls, cabinets, or furniture) can cause lead dust to be released into the air. Other occupations and tasks with lead exposure risks include the manufacturing of ammunition, ceramics, electrical components, pottery and lead batteries, stained glass, paints, or activities such as mining, smelting, soldering and welding.
Lead is toxic to almost all of our organs. The body will naturally get rid of lead over time but repeated exposure to low doses of lead, or short-term exposure to high doses, causes health problems. These problems can range from stomach pain and irritability to neurological issues, kidney failure and, in pregnant women, pre-term birth, reduced birth weight and decreased mental ability in the infant.
Eliminating the source of lead exposure is the best way to reduce the risk of exposure. If that's not possible, there are other risk controls to use.
Elimination and Substitution
Employers should eliminate the source by substituting lead-containing paints, coatings and materials with lead-free products.
Ensure that dust is kept to a minimum and select methods and equipment for the removal or installation of lead-containing products that will reduce dust generation -- for example wetting down the dust before sweeping and shovelling. Local mechanical ventilation should be provided to remove contaminants at the source. For example, power tools that can generate lead-containing dust should be equipped with effective dust collection systems. Mechanical ventilation should be provided to remove contaminated air from the workplace, and filtered air should be provided to replace the exhausted air.
Work and Hygiene Practices
Lead-containing material can accumulate on hands, clothing and hair. From there it can be disturbed, released into the air, and then inhaled or ingested by the worker or by their families when brought home. Good personal hygiene helps prevent lead exposure. Workers should wash their hands before eating, drinking, and smoking, and be able to wash and shower at the end of each shift. Put on clean clothes before leaving the work site. For all work involving lead exposure, there should be no smoking, eating, drinking or chewing in contaminated areas. Food and beverages should be stored in an uncontaminated area.
Protective Clothing and Equipment
Wear appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment to prevent skin contamination such as coveralls or full-body work clothing, gloves, hats, footwear or disposable coverlets, and safety glasses, face shields or goggles.
Respirators can help prevent the inhalation of lead where engineering controls and work practices do not control the concentration of lead to below the occupational exposure limit.
In Canada, most provincial governments require employers to monitor workers’ exposure to lead in the workplace. If you have concerns, you should contact your employer’s safety professional, or the health and safety committee or representative.
- Lead on Construction Projects fact sheet, CCOHS
- Lead Information Package, Health Canada
- If You Work Around Lead, Don’t Take it Home!, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- Occupational Health and Safety Bulletin: Lead at The Work Site, Work Safe Alberta
- Working Safely With Lead Paint, University of Manitoba
- Lead, WorkSafe BC
Tips & Tools
Statistics show that driver distraction is one of the leading causes of traffic accidents. According to the American Automobile Association drivers conversing on mobile devices, whether hands-free or hand-held, are up to four times more likely to be involved in a crash. Drivers engaged in visual-manual interactions with cell phones, such as texting, are eight times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who are focused on the road.
Crashes can happen almost instantly. Taking your eyes off the road for even just two seconds doubles your risk of being in a collision. At a speed of 60km/hr, that means you have travelled over 30 metres without looking at the road in front of you. Even checking a text message for 5 seconds at highway speed means you will have likely traveled the length of a football field without looking at the road.
Here are some tips for employers and workers to help avoid driver distraction:
- Educate workers on the risks of distracted driving.
- Instruct workers to have a voicemail message that indicates they are driving and cannot respond to calls.
- Ensure work schedules are established that allow employees to focus on driving and not their phones while operating a vehicle.
- Use or install hands-free devices if phone calls are absolutely necessary for work.
- Avoid using the phone or device.
- Have a voice mail option and allow it to pick up messages. Tell your caller you will phone them back after you have parked.
- Pull over to a safe location to make or take a call. Pull out of the flow of traffic especially when on a major highway (do not stop on the shoulder).
- Have a passenger answer or place the call.
- Use a hands free device when using the phone (e.g., voice activation, single touch) but remember the activation process and conversation itself is still a distraction.
- Make sure other devices are mounted (not moving around) while driving.
- Pre-program commonly used numbers.
- Pause conversations if driving conditions become hazardous (e.g., rain, snow, construction, heavy traffic).
- Driving – Using Cellular Telephones and Other Devices fact sheet, CCOHS
- Distracted Driving, Canadian Automobile Association (CAA)
- Safe Driving – It’s Your Call, Canada Safety Council
The WHMIS 2015 deadline is getting closer. To help with your WHMIS 2015 transition, Health Canada has developed two new fact sheets; Employers Transitioning to WHMIS 2015 and Distributors Transitioning to WHMIS 2015. The printable fact sheets can be found on WHMIS.org under Resources.
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s featured podcast provides tips on how to work safely with tractors and other farming equipment and an encore presentation of Preventing Permanent Hearing Loss.
Feature Podcast: Avoiding Harm on the Farm
Farming is a way of life for many Canadian families - and one of the most hazardous occupations. In this podcast episode, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) shares tips on how to work safely with tractors and other farming equipment.
The podcast runs 5:21 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Preventing Permanent Hearing Loss
Noise is one of the most common occupational health hazards as it can cause permanent, irreversible hearing loss. This episode shares what workers and their supervisors can do to help prevent permanent hearing loss at work.
The podcast runs 3:39minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
During North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week May 6-12, CCOHS is offering two of its online courses for free to help you develop health and safety committees in your workplace: Health and Safety Committees and Health and Safety Committees in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction.
Mark your calendars and register for the course(s) during NAOSH week and you will have 90 days to take it.
Developed by CCOHS, the Health and Safety Committees e-learning course provides a practical introduction to health and safety committees. It offers health and safety committee members, human resources professionals, and managers with responsibilities for health and safety, training and compliance, guidance on how to establish a new committee, how a committee can perform its functions and how it can be effective. The course introduces the roles and responsibilities of a committee and its members, and offers sample checklists, policies and other useful documents that can be customized for a specific work environment.
The Canada Labour Code, Part II requires employers to provide health and safety training to members of policy and workplace committees and health and safety representatives. The Health and Safety Committees in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction e-course, developed by CCOHS, can be used as a part of the required training.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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