Identifying the Risks Associated with Lead Dust and Fume Exposure

An incident that took place in the UK involving workmen being exposed to lead dust and fumes has highlighted the importance of identifying hazards and dealing with risks associated with these hazards.

Lead dust and fume exposure are two of the most unaddressed issues in the construction industry and one of the reasons for this is because these are sometimes not identified beforehand until it is too late. An incident which happened in London is an example of this.

An engineering company and contractor have been fined after 2 workers were exposed to lead during some refurbishment work.

The 2 men required hospitalisation after they inhaled dust and fumes when steel coated in lead paint was cut into in order to be removed from the structure being refurbished.

Blood tests conducted on the 2 workers revealed their lead levels were well above safe levels. As a result of the exposure, both of the workers required intensive treatment and months of monitoring before their blood tests returned to safe levels.

The following excerpt from explains further:

leadtowerPortsmouth Crown Court heard (12 December) that Bam Nuttall was responsible for a project to remove weathered steel from the former military control installation that has become a beacon for captains navigating waters around the Isle of Wight and the Solent.

The work involved removing sections of steel using cutting gear. Bam Nuttal Ltd knew the steel was coated in lead paint but failed to apply this knowledge and assess the need for control measures against lead exposure. Four Tees overlooked suitable control measures and failed to arrange suitable medical surveillance for those working with lead. Inspectors concluded there was little measures in place to stop the spread of lead dust and contamination.


The post on went on to remind employers to assume painted materials contain lead unless they can prove otherwise.

The 2 companies involved received fines totally almost £70,000 for breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and Control of Lead Work Regulations 2002.

After the hearing, a member of the Health and Safety Executive, Andrew Moore explained:

“The Nab Tower exposure was serious, and demonstrates the need to properly assess and guard against potential inhalation of lead fumes and dust.

The paint coating the steel was known to contain lead and it should have been handled with care from day one. Instead both companies allowed a number of unsafe practices, including eating, drinking and smoking, to continue unchallenged at the site that fuelled potential contamination.

Not that the workers would have known because there was no surveillance in place to monitor levels of lead in their blood and flag when the exposure had occurred.


It is crucial that employers and duty holders be cautious and err on the side of safety when it comes to hazards. When cutting, stripping or grinding painted material, workers should assume that it contains lead and take the necessary precautions, rather than assuming it doesn’t, only to find out later that it does. Those in control of the work site should ensure that adequate decontamination, surveillance and all necessary controls are implemented so that incidents like this don’t occur.

Posted by Construction Safety News Admin
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