What Construction Workers Should Know About Lead Poisoning

Lead is a soft bluish-gray metal in its elemental state that is commonly found as an additive in many construction materials. Such materials include but are not limited to: paint, welding wire, solders used for soldering tinplate and copper pipe joints, tank linings and electrical conduit. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has banned the use of lead-based paint in residences. However, because lead-based paint inhibits the rusting and corrosion of iron and steel, lead continues to be used on bridges, railways, ships, lighthouses and other steel structures. Employee exposures to lead can occur during the demolition, or salvage of structures, during the removal or encapsulation of lead-containing materials, and during new construction, alteration, repair, or renovation of structures that contain lead or lead-containing materials. Approximately 838,000 workers in construction are potentially exposed to lead each year.

What Construction Workers Should Know About Lead PoisoningMost adults with lead poisoning do not feel or look sick. 
Here are some symptoms they may feel:

  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Irritability

Exposure to lead for a long time may cause:

  • High blood pressure
  • Nerve disorders
  • Brain damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Reproductive damage

Workers are exposed by breathing lead dust or lead fumes.

Lead dust on workers’ hands can be accidentally swallowed while eating, drinking or smoking. Painters, ironworkers, laborers and demolition crews working on lead-painted structures are most at risk.

These activities may expose workers to high lead levels:

  • Abrasive blasting
  • Torch-cutting, burning and welding
  • Using grinders, sanders, needle guns, scalers and other power tools
  • Rivet busting
  • Dry scraping and sanding
  • Cleaning up lead-contaminated work areas

Workers can help prevent lead poisoning.

  • Use safe work practices and engineering controls.
  • Use wet cleaning methods and HEPA vacuums to clean work areas. Never dry sweep or use compressed air.
  • Wear a proper respirator and keep it clean.
  • Wash hands and face before eating, drinking and smoking. Never eat, drink or smoke in the work area.
  • Use separate clothes and boots for work.
  • Get regular blood lead tests.

What Construction Workers Should Know About Lead Poisoning

Federal and state laws require employers to protect workers from exposure to lead.

Employers must:

  • Use safe work practices and engineering controls to protect workers.
  • Inspect lead work areas and test the air for lead.
  • Keep work areas clean.

Provide:

  • Proper respirators and protective clothing.
  • Hand-washing stations and showers.
  • Clean areas for taking breaks, eating and changing clothes.
  • Train workers about workplace lead hazards and ways to prevent lead exposure.
  • Provide regular blood lead tests.
  • Provide medical exams to workers exposed to lead if they have:
    • A blood lead level of 40 mcg/dL or higher.
    • Lead poisoning symptoms.
    • Concerns about their ability to have a healthy child.
    • Remove workers from lead work if their blood lead   level is 50 mcg/dL or higher

What Construction Workers Should Know About Lead PoisoningProtect your family from lead poisoning.

Lead that is brought home on work clothes and equipment can cause learning and behavior problems in young children.

  • Wash and shower before leaving work.
  • Change out of work clothes and boots before going home or getting into your car.
  • Wash work clothes separately from other household laundry.
  • Ask a doctor about testing family members.
  • Make sure that all children get tested for lead poisoning at ages 1 and 2.