Safety Tips Workplace exposure

Lead: Still a workplace hazard

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Although less common than it used to be, lead exposure still occurs at work. This toxic metal can be found in a variety of industries, including construction, mining and manufacturing, according to NIOSH.

The agency stresses that it is important for workers to understand how exposure to lead occurs so it can be avoided. Ways workers can be exposed include:

  • Breathing in lead dust or fumes: Lead dust is created when metal is cut or lead paint is sanded. Lead fumes occur during metal processing.
  • Consuming lead dust: Because lead dust can settle on food, clothes and other items, if you eat or drink in areas where lead is processed or stored, you can ingest lead.
  • Coming in contact with lead dust: Workers can come in direct contact with lead dust via the eyes, nose, mouth or skin. Additionally, as lead dust can settle on clothes, workers may expose their families by tracking home lead dust.

Short-term exposure to high levels of lead can cause abdominal pain, headaches, irritability, memory problems and loss of appetite. These symptoms often are overlooked because they tend to occur slowly over time, according to NIOSH. More serious health consequences of exposure to high levels of lead include kidney and brain damage, and even death.

NIOSH offers numerous tips to help prevent lead exposure on the job. These include refraining from eating or drinking where lead-containing items are processed or stored, using a lead removal product to clean your hands, showering and changing your clothes and shoes before leaving work if you work in an environment that contains lead, and working in well-ventilated areas.

Are you concerned that you may have been exposed to lead on the job? NIOSH recommends talking with your employer to see if routine BLL testing – a simple blood test that can measure your blood-lead levels – is conducted. If your employer does not conduct this testing, consult with your medical provider about having the test done, NIOSH states.

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