Lead exposure can threaten you if you perform activities like abrasive blasting, sanding, scraping, cutting, burning, welding, and painting during repair, reconstruction, dismantling, and demolition work. If you are not properly protected, the chance of exposing yourself to lead poisoning is high. A short-term, high-dose exposure could result in a brain disorder escalating to seizures, coma, or even death. Long-term, low-level exposure can cause nervous system damage, kidney disease, reproductive impairment, or death.
When absorbed into the body in certain doses, lead is a toxic substance. Lead is absorbed when breathing or eating, and through the skin when in certain forms. OSHA limits the concentration of lead in work area air to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (50 mg/m³) for an 8 hour workday. This is the permissible exposure limit (PEL).
If lead is present at your worksite in any quantity, your company must determine whether OSHA’s action level for workers has been reached/exceeded or not. After that you will be notified of the results. If exposure is beyond the PEL, your company must try to minimize exposure with controls like HEPA vacuums, distancing employee from abrasive blasting operation, chemical removal instead of hand scraping, replacement of lead-based painted building components, brushing/rolling paint instead of spraying, and substituting other coatings for lead-based coatings.
You should use the following good work practices to help protect yourself when working with lead:
- Use the correct respirator.
- Keep the worksite clean. Use only a vacuum with a HEPA filter or wet cleaning methods when removing lead dust. Never use compressed air for cleaning.
- Eat, drink, or smoke in areas outside the worksite. Keep all lunch boxes and coffee cups away from the work area. Use a separate lunchroom.
- Wash your hands and face before eating, drinking, smoking, or applying cosmetics.
- Use protective clothing. Store street clothes separately from work clothes. Never wear contaminated clothes home.
- Shower and change into clean clothes, including shoes, before leaving the worksite so that no lead contamination is carried home.
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