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Lead Hazards Safety

Lead overexposure is one of the most common overexposures found in industry and is a leading cause of workplace illness. The reduction of lead exposure is a high strategic priority. OSHA five year strategic plan sets a performance goal of a 15% reduction in the average severity of lead exposure or employee blood lead levels in selected industries and workplaces.

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  Written Lead Safety Program


Operations that generate lead dust and fume include the following:

  • Flame-torch cutting, welding, the use of heat guns, sanding, scraping and grinding of lead painted surfaces in repair, reconstruction, dismantling, and demolition work;

  • Abrasive blasting of bridges and other structures containing lead-based paints;

  • Use of torches and heat guns, and sanding, scraping, and grinding lead-based paint surfaces during remodeling or abating lead-based paint; and

  • Maintaining process equipment or exhaust duct work.

The most effective way to protect workers is to minimize exposure through the use of engineering controls and good work practices. It is OSHA policy that respirators are not to be used in lieu of engineering and work practices to reduce employee exposures to below the PEL. Respirators can only be used in combination with engineering controls and work practices to control employee exposures.

At the minimum, the following elements should be included in the employer's worker protection program for employees exposed to lead:

  • Hazard determination, including exposure assessment

  • Engineering and work practice controls

  • Respiratory protection

  • Protective clothing and equipment

  • Housekeeping

  • Hygiene facilities and practices

  • Medical surveillance and provisions for medical removal

  • Training

  • Signs & Symptoms

  • Recordkeeping.

To implement the worker protection program properly, the employer needs to designate a competent person.  The competent person must have the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate such problems. Qualified medical personnel must be available to advise the employer and employees on the health effects of employee lead exposure and supervise the medical surveillance program.

Lead Hazard Engineering Controls

Because lead is a cumulative and persistent toxic substance and because lead-caused health effects may result from low levels of exposure over prolonged periods of time, engineering controls and good work practices must be used where feasible to minimize employee exposure to lead. At a minimum, exposures must not exceed the OSHA interim final PEL of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 ug/m(3)) averaged over an 8-hour-period. When feasible engineering controls and work practice controls cannot reduce worker exposure to lead to at or below 50 ug/m(3), respirators must be used to supplement the use of engineering and work practice controls.

A competent person should review all site operations and stipulate the specific engineering controls and work practices designed to reduce worker exposure to lead. Engineering measures include local and general exhaust ventilation, process and equipment modification, material substitution, component replacement, and isolation or automation.

Exhaust Ventilation to Control Lead Dust

Power tools used for the removal of lead-based paint should be equipped with dust collection shrouds or other attachments exhausted through a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum system. Operations such as welding, cutting/burning, heating should be provided with local exhaust ventilation. HEPA vacuums should be used during clean-up activities.

For abrasive blasting operations where full containment exists or is required, the containment structure should be designed to optimize the flow of ventilation air past the workers, so that the airborne concentration of lead is reduced and the visibility is increased. The affected area should be maintained under negative pressure to reduce the chances that lead dust will contaminate areas outside the enclosure. A containment structure should be equipped with dust collection and an air-cleaning device to control emissions of particulate matter to the environment.

Lead Enclosure and Encapsulation

Lead-based paint can be made inaccessible either by encapsulating it with a material that bonds to the surface, such as acrylic or epoxy coating or flexible wall coverings, or by enclosing it using systems such as gypsum wallboard, plywood paneling, and aluminum, vinyl or wood exterior siding. Floors coated with lead-based paint can be covered using vinyl tile or linoleum flooring.

The building owner, or other responsible person, should oversee the custodial and maintenance staffs and contractors with regard to all activities that involve enclosed or encapsulated lead- based paint. This will minimize potential inadvertent release of lead during maintenance, renovation, or demolition.

Substitution with Non-Hazardous Materials

Zinc-containing primers covered by an epoxy intermediate coat and polyurethane topcoat are commonly used instead of lead-containing coatings.

Mobile hydraulic shears can be substituted for torch cutting under certain circumstances.

Surface preparation equipment, such as needle guns with multiple reciprocating needles completely enclosed within an adjustable shroud, can be substituted for abrasive blasting under certain operations. The shroud captures dust and debris at the cutting edge and can be equipped with a HEPA vacuum filtration system with a self-drumming feature. One such commercial unit can remove lead-based paint from flat steel and concrete surfaces, outside edges, inside corners, and pipes.



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