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Working Safely with Lead: A Quick Guide

Delve into our concise guide on the Health and Safety Executive's document "Lead and You: Working Safely with Lead". Explore the potential health hazards of working with lead, spanning from activities like burning old lead paint to processing lead compounds. Learn ways lead can permeate your body, and the long-term effects it can inflict on your health, including nerve damage and infertility. Find out about your employer's responsibility to safeguard your health from lead exposure. Discover precautions to take for a safer working environment, the importance of regular health checks, and necessary actions if blood-lead levels get too high.

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This article is a quick guide to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) document titled "Lead and You: Working Safely with Lead" (INDG305 rev2). The guide aims to simplify the important points from the original document and present them in an easy-to-understand format.

Risks of Working with Lead

Working with lead can pose significant health risks, especially when the work produces lead dust, fume, or vapour. Some of the activities that can put you at risk include:

  • Burning or removing old lead paint
  • Stripping old lead paint from doors, windows, etc.
  • Hot cutting in demolition and dismantling operations
  • Scrap-processing activities
  • Manufacturing and recycling lead-acid batteries
  • Working with metallic lead and alloys containing lead
  • Manufacturing and physically processing lead compounds

How Lead Enters Your Body

Lead can enter your body when you breathe in lead dust, fume, or vapour, or when you swallow any lead. This can happen if you eat, drink, smoke, or bite your nails without washing your hands and face. The absorbed lead circulates in your blood and can stay in your body, stored mainly in your bones, for many years without making you ill.

Effects of Lead on Health

Excessive lead in your body can cause health problems including headaches, tiredness, irritability, constipation, nausea, stomach pains, anaemia, and weight loss. Prolonged uncontrolled exposure can lead to more serious symptoms such as kidney damage, nerve and brain damage, and infertility.

Employer's Responsibility

Your employer is responsible for assessing the risk to your health from lead exposure and putting in place systems of work and other controls to prevent or control your exposure. They must also provide washing and changing facilities, inform you about the health risks, and train you to use any control measures and protective equipment correctly.

Health Check at Work

If your exposure to lead is significant, your employer must measure the level of lead in your body. This is done by a doctor at your workplace who takes a small blood sample to measure the amount of lead it contains.

What Happens if Your Blood-Lead Level is Too High?

If the amount of lead in your blood reaches the action level, your employer must investigate why this has happened and try to reduce it. If your blood-lead level reaches the suspension level, you will not be allowed to work with lead again until the doctor considers it safe for you to do so.

Protecting Your Health

It is important to follow good work practices, use all the equipment provided by your employer, and maintain a high standard of personal hygiene. You should also keep your medical appointments with the doctor at your workplace.


Working with lead can pose significant health risks. It is important to understand these risks and the precautions you should take. Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from lead exposure and to ensure they are trained to work safely. Employees should also take responsibility for their own health and follow good work practices.


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Richard O'Connor is a Director at First Mats. He has deep knowledge in areas like Manufacturing, Warehousing, Marine, and Health & Safety. Richard's insights have been featured in well-known publications such as Bloomberg Business, The Sun, and Reader's Digest. His blend of industry expertise and passion for sharing makes him a sought-after voice in his fields.

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