9 Tips For Preventing Harmful Lead Exposure

As you know, protecting employees from harmful exposures can be a daunting task, often more complex than preventing injuries, as employees frequently don’t recognize or report issues until well after they materialize. Health and Safety professionals sometimes fall into a game of catch-up, trying to protect other workers from being affected by the same illness. Dangerous substances won’t be noticed in time without proactive environment sampling and employee monitoring.

One hazard found in various industries is occupational lead exposure, which has declined in recent years. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the prevalence of elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) in employed adults decreased by 55% between 1994 and 2009.

Lead Exposure

report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the prevalence of elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) in employed adults decreased by 55% between 1994 and 2009. Despite this decline, lead exposure is still highlighted by public entities as a health concern for employers. And for good reason – approximately 95% of elevated BLLs reported among adults are work-related (source: the CDC).

In September, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) released a lead hazard alert, urging construction workers to exercise caution while using thermal cutting tools to de-tension cables embedded in concrete structures. These workers are at risk of harmful amounts of lead exposure by means of inhalation or ingestion of lead particles. The L&I also outlines steps that can be taken to reduce lead exposure, including the following:

According to a recent research article from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there are significant financial benefits available to employers who reduce lead exposure among their workforce.  Through their research, the author estimates the indirect and direct costs of the “current high occupational lead exposures in the US costs” to be over $392 million, or roughly $40,000 per exposed employee.

Tips for reduced lead exposure are helpful, but what systematic process can employers follow to reduce the risk of harmful lead exposure and costs of related workers’ compensation claims.

  • Recognize that a hazard exists – if lead is present in the workplace, employers should conduct Industrial Hygiene monitoring to determine if the lead level is above the OSHA permissible exposure level (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over 8 hours.
  • Monitor employee blood levels – after determining if the level is above the PEL, implement monitoring of employee blood lead levels.
  • Implement exposure controls – use engineering and administrative controls as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce lead exposure on the job.
  • Analyze the data to find trends – proper analysis and trending of data gathered through biological monitoring and IH sampling will help employers assess the effectiveness of the exposure controls.

It’s important to note that this isn’t a one-time activity. It’s a cyclical and continuous process necessary for employers to protect employees from harmful amounts of lead.

Mitigating occupational exposure risk is often complex and time consuming. And it’s even more challenging when multiple locations across different states and countries are involved.

Here’s the good news: the right Occupational Health Management software will help you identify hazards through exposure monitoring, such as blood lead testing results. That way you can ensure compliance with OSHA regulations and optimize resources to better protect employee health.

Which systems and processes have you put in place to prevent harmful lead exposures? Leave a comment below.

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