Occupational Exposure to Lead

What Is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring, bluish-grey metal that is soft, malleable, corrosion-resistant, and easily melted. There are two types of lead – organic and inorganic. Organic lead is less of a concern because of the elimination of leaded gasoline. Inorganic lead is more common in today’s workplace. 

Why Is Lead Harmful?

Lead is a cumulative toxin that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children. Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney (link to kidney page) and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Human lead exposure is usually assessed through the measurement of lead in blood. Lead in bone is released into blood during pregnancy and becomes a source of exposure to the developing fetus. There is no level of exposure to lead that is known to be without harmful effects, however, occupational exposure to lead is preventable.

Lead Health Effects

In the workplace, the most common route of lead exposure to is through inhalation and ingestion. Employees are mainly exposed to lead by breathing in lead-containing dust and fumes at work, and through ingestion (eating, drinking, and smoking) via contaminated hands, clothing, and surfaces.  

Lead exposure targets the kidneys, nervous system, and effects a person’s cognitive abilities. Low-level exposure accumulates over time, and health risks quietly increase for the person exposed. Lead poisoning often has no symptoms. Lower-level exposures can damage a person’s kidneys, nervous system and cognitive abilities. Sufficient evidence has accumulated for a causal relationship between lead and hypertension with risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. There is also an association between increased blood lead levels and decreased mental function in adults.  

Lead is a well-known reproductive toxin. Pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child. Lead can damage a developing baby’s nervous system. Even low-level lead exposures in developing babies have been found to affect behavior and intelligence. Lead exposure can cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility (in both men and women). Breastfeeding baby is also at risk since lead can be excreted in breast milk. 

Who Needs To Be Concerned About Occupational Lead Poisoning?

Jobs associated with lead hazards include:

  • Painting
  • Building renovation
  • Radiator repair
  • Bridge work
  • Demolition
  • Battery manufacturing
  • Metal production
  • Metal scrap cutting and recycling
  • Plumbing
  • Soldering
  • Ceramic work

Lead is a highly toxic material commonly used in lead-acid batteries, solders, paints, ammunition, pipes, cable covering, radiation shielding, ceramic glazes and plastics.  

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should be prohibited from handling lead containing materials. 

How to Prevent Occupational Exposure to Lead 

If your workplace is frequently in contact with lead, it’s important to have a lead exposure control plan in place to prevent lead poisoning. Contact Chemscape Safety Technologies today to learn how we can help you develop a comprehensive exposure control plan. 


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