Lead Safety 101
Lead is a toxic substance that builds up in the body, posing serious health risks to those exposed to it. Health problems may arise after periods of exposure as short as days or as long as several years. When employees or volunteers work with lead, it accumulates on clothing and skin in the form of dust. It can be inhaled or ingested, and can damage the lungs, kidneys, nervous system, intestines and reproductive system. Frighteningly, there’s no cure for lead poisoning.
How Workers Can Be Exposed
Lead can be found in the paint and pipes of buildings built before 1978. If you’re involved in the remodeling or demolition of such a building, you’re at risk of exposure. It’s essential to have the paint tested and take special precautions to minimize your risk if it does, in fact, contain lead. A few directions you should pass on to supervisors in an effort to keep risk low include:
- Contain the work area, creating a sealed air lock at the entrance to the area in which you’re working and at the vents and heating ducts. Cover the floors.
- Wet sweep and wet mop the work area each day with phosphate-containing detergent, changing the mop water frequently. Strain out paint chips and debris from the mop water and dispose of them in a plastic bag.
- Vacuum the walls, tops of doors and windows and the plastic barrier to the work area daily. Use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter.
- Mist water on lead-painted areas to reduce dust.
- Never use an open flame or heat guns near paint or lead-containing objects. Don’t use methods that create dust, such as sanding or grinding.
- Don’t smoke, eat, drink or put on cosmetics in contaminated work areas or while wearing contaminated clothing; doing so will increase your risk of ingesting dust when doing these activities.
- Thoroughly wash your hands and face whenever you stop to eat, smoke or use other forms of tobacco.
- If you work with kids, keep them away from any lead-based paints or other items with lead, as they can be poisoned from touching the paints and putting items in their mouth.
If your employees or volunteers are working with lead, it’s very important that you rigorously practice basic personal hygiene to minimize your health risks. In addition to minimizing your exposure, good hygiene practices also prevent you from taking lead-contaminated dust out of the worksite and into your home where it can seriously affect your family’s health. Ensure all workers:
- Wear protective gear, including rubber gloves, a coverall and a respirator with a HEPA filter that fits properly.
- Remove contaminated clothing at work, and shower before getting into cars and returning home.
For other questions on lead risk, reach out to an ‘A’ Team member.
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