Lead Hazards in Construction

Working in the field of construction can be dangerous, with the risks of falling objects, usage of heavy machinery, and handling of hazardous tools. However, when you throw the risk of lead exposure into the mix it becomes even more unsafe. First, let’s get one thing straight, lead comes directly from the earth. Lead is a naturally occurring element that is found in the earth’s crust and can be found in varying amounts in the air, soil, and water. In addition, lead is also used in quite a few different products due to its ability to ward off rust and corrosion. The risk of lead exposure is quite low for most individuals, however, the risk of exposure elevates for people who work in the construction industry.

Higher Lead Risk for Construction Workers

Currently, lead is still used in certain paints, solder, plumbing fixtures, metal alloys, and various electrical components, all of which are commonly used or repaired during construction. Since lead is so prevalent in construction, it puts workers at an elevated risk of exposure. For example, imagine that a person purchased an old farm house in hopes of fixing it up to make it nice again. However, once he sees the magnitude of work that needs to be done, he hires a construction company to take on the challenge. The house was built back in the early 1900’s and features loads of crumbling lead-based paint both on the inside and outside, and also contains lead pipes in need of replacement. Unfortunately, it is the job of the construction team to rid the home of its lead components so it is safe to inhabit. Nonetheless, the construction workers are now bearing the risk of lead exposure as they work to fix and update the home.

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How to Protect Against Lead Exposure

Construction workers should always exercise caution when it comes to possible lead exposure and the usage of certain personal protective equipment can help lower the risk of exposure. For example, when removing lead-based paints, workers should wear safety glasses with side shields to protect their eyes, abrasion resistant gloves to protect hands, and a disposable suit to protect the body. Furthermore, based on the ventilation and severity of the situation, a breathing apparatus may also be utilized to ensure clean air is available for breathing.

Construction Practices that Create Lead Exposure

There are many different construction activities that can generate lead dust and fumes. Some common contributors include the tear down and demolition of residential or commercial structures, welding or flame touch cutting, and the use of sanders or scrapers to remove lead based paints. OSHA actually has a set of regulations regarding lead exposure for construction workers when working on flood damaged structures. OSHA states that “Lead overexposure is one of the most common overexposures found in industry and is a leading cause of workplace illness.

The risk of lead exposure in construction is real, and can cause serious health risks for construction workers who do not use caution when working in lead inhibited areas. If you work in the field of construction, make sure you are informed about lead and use caution when working within structures containing lead.