Employees who are exposed to lead dust, fumes or vapour at work are at risk of blood lead toxicity due to absorption of the lead into the body. Common ways lead can be absorbed at work include:
- breathing in lead fume, dust or vapour.
- absorption of organic lead directly through the skin.
- swallowing lead primarily due to poor hand hygiene through drinking, eating, smoking or nail biting.
Once lead has been absorbed by the body, it remains in the blood and circulates in the body where it accumulates in bone tissue where it can stay for many years without causing many health issues.
Poorly controlled over exposure to lead at work can lead to a number of health related symptoms. These include:
- Tiredness or fatigue,
- stomach pains,
- loss of appetite,
- weight loss,
- memory or concentration problems,
- pain and tingling in the hands or feet,
- high blood pressure,
- heart disease,
- kidney damage,
- nerve and brain damage,
Ways to minimise workplace lead exposure
- Provide personal protective equipment provided including goggles, gloves, respiratory masks and boots and make sure that any damaged items are replaced and discarded.
- Provide employees with safe systems of work including the maintenance of clean working areas, adequate ventilation and/or extraction, provision of safe waste disposal.
- Provide adequate hand washing facilities and the use of a lead removing cleanser for lead decontamination.
- Provide an area to change clothes and a place to leave PPE or clothing for washing so that lead cannot be taken home.
- Ensure that employees wash their hands prior to eating and drinking and make sure that a designated area is provided.
- Ensure that employees are provided with training and information in order to work safely. You should also be aware of emergency procedures, such as what to do if there is a sudden release of lead dust.
Employers have a duty to provide medical surveillance for all their employees who, despite actions to control the risk, are likely to be regularly exposed to lead. Where exposure to lead is significant the employer must ensure that the employee is under medical health surveillance by either a medical inspector from the Employment Medical Advisory Service (EMAS) or an appointed doctor.
Lead Medical will involve the taking of blood to test for lead levels and a consultation with a doctor and will be carried out according to the procedures and guidance from the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 (CLAW) and the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP). The aim of these regulations and guidance is to protect the health of people by preventing or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlling their exposure to lead.
The Health and Work Consultancy statutory Lead Medical Surveillance includes:
- Provision of a health questionnaire
- Discussion and interpretation of the questionnaire with a Health and Safety Approved Doctor
- Blood or urine tests that are sent away for analysis using a laboratory approved by the National External Quality Assessment Scheme (UK NEQAS) known to the HSE.
Sources of further information
- Health and Safety Executive information on Working Safely with Lead
- Health and Safety Executive Appointed Doctors list
If you have any questions about Statutory blood lead surveillance or any other occupational health services for your business in South Wales or the South of England, don't hesitate to call us on 02920 682028 or Contact us.