Risk of Contracting Lead Poisoning in Construction

One of the lesser known hazards presented by construction work is lead poisoning. Although manufacturers are held by higher standards than they were in the past, there are some buildings that still contain building materials containing lead, especially paint.

Many of the buildings erected or renovated before 1970 could contain lead paint as was common in those days. Old paint on plant and machinery on site may also contain lead if it was painted with lead based paint.

Similar to asbestos, lead presents a problem when it is interfered with during rebuilds or renovations or when it begins to deteriorate. The lead paint often peels off in large flecks, small chips or a fine powder which can be extremely dangerous when inhaled.

Scientists have found that lead paint can be dangerous to almost every organ of the human body. The organs that are highest at risk are the brain, kidney and reproductive organs which become affected when lead is inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin.

Lead dust can enter the body when it is inhaled because of fumes in the air. Lead can also be ingested and over time cause health problems especially because it cannot be naturally dispelled from the body. One of the health problems that may develop in the long run is anemia because of the distortion of the body’s red blood cell production by lead.

If worker’s are suffering from symptoms such as unexplainable headaches and lethargy, irritability, constipation, abdominal pain, colic which develops into seizures and aggressiveness they may be exposed to lead poisoning.

Employers or principal contractors should inform workers if materials they work with contain any harmful substances, such as lead based paint or if they will come into contact with deteriorating lead products during renovations or rebuilds.

As a worker you have a right to know if the materials you work with are hazardous to your health, so if you suspect something and your employer has not informed you, check with your occupational health and safety rep or supervisor. If you suspect the presence of lead (or any lethal substance) but are not sure, rather treat it as dangerous than take a chance of infecting yourself.

If it is established that a site or area contains lead based paint or lead, the employer or contractor should establish a regulated area where workers wear personal protective clothing and equipment which has been provided for them free of charge by their employer. Workers should receive training on PPE correct use as well as how to safely work in the presence of the established hazard, in this case lead.

In addition to personal protective clothing, workers should be provided with respirators at no expense to themselves if the exposure to the lead is extremely high. Work clothes should be worn that do not catch dust or flakes in pockets or cuffs.

Gloves, hats and shoes or disposal shoe coverlets should be used as part of the PPE, which employers provide as well as adequate shower facilities and clean areas for changing and hand washing. Workers on site should not smoke, eat, or drink in and around areas of work with lead paint.



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