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On June 28, 2022, OSHA published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in the Federal Register. The ANPRM looks to reduce medical removal protection and surveillance triggers under OSHA’s current General Industry and Construction standards. Public comments concerning blood lead triggers, medical surveillance, permissible exposure limit, PPE, housekeeping, hygiene, and training are due online by August 29, 2022. See the Federal Register notice for instructions how to submit comments.

Recent research indicates that workers can have adverse health effects from lead exposures below current permissible exposure limits. Employers must understand how to:

  • Meet their duty under OSHA’s standards,
  • Communicate lead exposure hazards to workers, and
  • Protect workers from occupational exposure to lead.

Lead (Pb) is a heavy metal that can threaten workers’ health in many occupations. Lead can be inhaled or swallowed, and once inside the body, it tends to remain in tissues and organs. Eventually, after repeated exposures, lead build-up becomes toxic.

Lead is an important ingredient in paint because of its rust-inhibiting properties. Lead-based paints are still used on bridges, railways, ships, lighthouses, and other steel structures. However, they are no longer used in household paints. Significant exposure can arise from removing paint from surfaces previously coated with lead-based paint, such as in:

  • Bridge repair,
  • Resdential renovation,
  • Remodeling, and
  • Demolition.

Welders, painters, or plumbers have increased chances of exposure to lead. If workers are not properly protected, they risk getting lead poisoning.

What duty do employers have?

Workers have the right to know what operations and processes in the workplace could cause lead exposure. While using lead in the workplace, employers must test air samples to determine if the amount of lead exceeds the limits set by OSHA. If air sampling in the workplace discloses that lead levels exceed permissible exposure limits (PELs), employers must:

  • Provide an overview of the OSHA rule on lead and the company’s written safety plan, if requested,
  • Post warning signs in all areas where exposure may exceed PEL,
  • Give initial training before the time of initial job assignment, and at least annually after that,
  • Inform you about sources of lead exposure in the workplace and operations which could lead to exposure,
  • Provide proper PPE. Proper use of work clothing and industrial hygiene can reduce exposure to lead, and
  • Offer a medical monitoring program if employees are exposed. You have a right to view the results of any medical examination.

How can it harm workers?

How can it harm workers? Lead can be absorbed into the body by inhaling it or ingesting it. As exposure to lead continues, the amount stored in your body may increase. Even though workers may not be aware of any immediate symptoms of the disease, the lead stored in their tissues can be slowly causing irreversible damage. The exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys, immune system, reproductive system, and possibly cause cancer. Damage occurs to individual cells, organs, and the entire body system.

How can workers protect themselves?

How can workers protect themselves? Maintaining lead exposure at acceptable levels is possible if the following these practices:

  • Use an exhaust ventilation system, where provided.
  • Don a respirator that will give adequate protection.
  • Keep the worksite clean. When removing lead dust, use only a vacuum with a HEPA filter or wet cleaning methods. Never use compressed air for cleaning.
  • Eat, drink, or smoke in areas outside the worksite. Keep all lunch boxes and coffee cups away from the work area.
  • Use protective clothing. Store street clothes separately from work clothes. Never wear contaminated clothes home.
  • Shower and change into clean clothes, including shoes, before leaving the worksite so that no lead contamination is carried home.

Don’t forget to post signs too. In areas with lead, post signs where the permissible exposure level is exceeded in each work area. The signs must bear the legend:


Key to remember: If workers are not adequately protected, they risk getting lead poisoning. Workers have the right to know what operations and processes in the workplace could cause lead exposure.