Lead, a basic chemical element, is a heavy metal. It can be combined with various other substances to form numerous lead compounds. Exposure to lead can occur during demolition or salvage of structures where lead or lead-containing materials are present, new construction, alteration, repair, or renovation of structures that contain lead or materials containing lead, installation of products containing lead, or removal or encapsulation of materials containing lead. Exposure may also occur when transporting, disposing, or storing, of lead or materials containing lead on a construction site, and maintenance operations associated with construction activities.
The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for lead is 50 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air (50μg/m3), averaged over an 8-hour workday. When a work area is above the PEL signs must be posted. The action level is 30 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air averaged over and 8-hr workday. The action level triggers several ancillary provisions of that standard such as exposure monitoring, medical surveillance, and training.
Lead can be absorbed into your body through inhalation and ingestion. When lead is scattered in the air as dust, fume, or mist it can be inhaled and absorbed through your lungs and upper respiratory tract. Inhalation of airborne lead is generally the most important source of occupational lead absorption. You can also absorb lead through your digestive system if it gets into your mouth and swallowed. Handling food, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or make-up that have lead on them or handling these items with hands contaminated with lead will contribute to ingestion. A significant portion of the lead that you inhale or ingest gets into your bloodstream. Once in your bloodstream, lead is circulated throughout the body and stored in various organs. Some of this lead is quickly filtered out of your body and excreted, but some remains in the blood and other tissues. As exposure to lead continues, the amount stored in your body will increase if you are absorbing more lead than your body is excreting. Even though you may not be aware of any immediate symptoms of disease, this lead stored in your tissues can be slowly causing irreversible damage, first to individual cell, then to you organs and whole body systems.
Acute effects (short term) of overexposure – Lead is a potent, systemic poison that serves no useful function once absorbed by the body. Taken in large enough doses, lead can kill you in a matter of days. A condition affecting the brain called acute encephalopathy may arise which develops quickly to seizures, coma, and death from cardio respiratory arrest. Short term occupation exposures of this magnitude are highly unusual, but not impossible.
Chronic effects overexposure – Chronic overexposure to lead may result in severe damage to your blood – forming, nervous, urinary and reproductive systems. Some common symptoms of chronic overexposure include loss of appetite, metallic taste in the mouth, anxiety, constipation, nausea, pallor, excessive tiredness, weakness, insomnia, headache, nervous irritability, muscle and joint pain or soreness, fine tremors, numbness, dizziness, hyperactivity and colic. Chronic overexposure to lead impairs the reproductive systems of both men and women. Overexposure to lead may result in decreased sex drive, impotence and sterility in men. Lead exposure may cause birth defects to children.
Employees should immediately notify your employer if you develop signs or symptoms associated with lead poisoning or if you desire medical advice concerning the effects of current or past exposure to lead or your ability to have a healthy child.
Respirators must be used when the employee’s exposure to lead exceeds the PEL, engineering and work-practice controls are not sufficient to reduce the employee exposure below the PEL, an employee request a respirator and interim protection is required during the assessment of exposure. Protective work clothing shall be worn to prevent the contamination of an employee’s clothing. Types of this protective clothing include: coveralls or similar full-body work clothing, gloves, hats, shoes, face shields, vented goggles.
In any work area where an employee’s exposure to lead is above the PEL readily visible signs must be posted. These signs shall contain the wording: WARNING, LEAD WORK AREA, POISON, NO SMOKING OR EATING