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.
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.