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Lead has been commonly used for many industrial and commercial purposes, primarily because it is widely available, easy to extract, and easy to work with.
Lead can be found in the following materials, among many other sources:
Please also see the chemical profile on lead.
Two routes of entry are of major concern: inhalation and ingestion.
A significant portion of lead that is inhaled or ingested gets into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, lead circulates through the body and is stored in various organs and body tissues. Some of this lead is filtered out of the body and excreted, but some remains in the blood and tissues. As exposure continues, the amount stored will increase if the body absorbs more lead than it excretes. The lead stored in the tissue can slowly cause irreversible damage, first to individual cells, then to organs and whole body systems.
Exposure to lead can occur in almost any trade. Workers at highest risk for lead exposure include those involved in iron work, construction, demolition, painting, plumbing, welding, heating and air conditioning, building maintenance and repair, electrical, carpentry, renovation, and remodelling.
Operations with the potential to expose workers to lead include:
To avoid the ingestion, inhalation, and unintentional transfer of lead from contaminated areas, it is essential to have the following control methods in place:
Even with appropriate measures to control lead, some workers may still be affected. For this reason, periodic medical examinations are important to determine if the control measures are effective and if workers are suffering from the effects of lead exposure.
Elimination and Substitution
Engineering controls include:
Work and Hygiene Practices
Lead-containing material can accumulate on hands, clothing and hair. From there it can be disturbed, re-suspended in air, and then inhaled or ingested. Workers should therefore be able to wash and shower at the end of each shift. 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.
An effective housekeeping program requires the regular clean-up and removal of lead-containing dust and debris. Surfaces should be kept clean by washing with water or vacuuming with a vacuum equipped with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Containers of lead-containing waste should be kept tightly covered to prevent dust from becoming airborne. Cleaning with compressed air or dry sweeping should be avoided.
Protective Clothing and Equipment
Appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment to prevent skin contamination, include but are not limited to:
Respirators prevent the inhalation of lead where engineering controls and work practices do not control the concentration of lead to below the occupational exposure limit. Workers should be instructed and trained on the care and use of personal protective equipment before using it.
If respirators are used, a respirator program should be implemented as part of a personal protective equipment program.
Where respirators are provided, they should be appropriate in the circumstances for the anticipated concentrations of airborne lead. Respirators should be selected according to the NIOSH assigned protection factors. Please also see the chemical profile on lead for the current NIOSH respirator recommendation.
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Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.