Construction Lead Workplace exposures

Alert warns of lead exposure during cable de-tensioning work

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Olympia, WA – The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has issued a hazard alert for workers who use thermal cutting tools to de-tension cables embedded in concrete structures such as bridges and freeway overpasses, warning them of the dangers of lead exposure.

According to the alert, the metal wedges that hold steel strands inside cables are embedded in anchor plates and contain lead. When workers use heat to remove the wedges, the material is converted into fine lead particles, forming smoke or haze in the work zone. This puts workers at risk of inhaling harmful amounts of lead, which can contaminate clothing and spread to vehicles and residences if not properly removed. Workers also can ingest lead present on the hands, face or surfaces when it is transferred to food, other consumable materials or sweat.

Lead inhalation or ingestion can cause health problems such as nausea, fatigue, muscle weakness, kidney disease, irritability and reproductive damage.

To help reduce exposure to lead, Washington L&I recommends:

  • Improve ventilation by using a portable local exhaust ventilation system to reduce smoke.
  • Limit lead exposure time during shifts.
  • Make sure optimal hygiene facilities are available for possible lead removal, including for hand washing and showering.

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