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How to Avoid Lead Exposure at Work

Posted on October 16, 2018

Lead is a toxic substance that can cause many severe medical issues. Once lead works its way into the body, it can embed in the blood, bones, and various other tissues. Over time, lead exposure can cause life-threatening medical conditions. Although most industrial and commercial applications avoid using lead today, many workplaces may contain high amounts of lead-based substances, and lead does play a major role in some modern production practices. If you work in any type of environment where lead exposure is a risk, you need to know how to limit your exposure and avoid lead-related illnesses.

Symptoms of Lead Exposure

One of the most troubling aspects of lead exposure is that the early symptoms are relatively mild and may mimic the appearance of other, less severe conditions. Some of the symptoms of early-stage lead exposure include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain

Over time, these symptoms will worsen and evolve into other symptoms like constipation, nausea, and depression. Long-term exposure can result in organ damage, high blood pressure, heart disease, and fertility problems.

Treatment for these symptoms begins with testing lead levels in the blood and removing the source of the lead exposure. Once a physician determines the level of lead in a patient’s blood and identifies the cause of the exposure, the patient’s body will naturally break down the remaining lead in his or her system over time.

Risk Factors for Lead Exposure

Some professions incur a higher risk of lead exposure than others. Some of the most dangerous types of work when it comes to lead exposure include:

  • Construction and painting. Many building materials contain traces of lead, and painters may suffer lead exposure from lead-based paint. Although most residential construction work does not use lead-based paint anymore, construction workers who tear down old buildings or painters who remove old lead-based paint are at risk of lead exposure.
  • Many production processes involve lead-based materials. People who work in battery manufacturing, plastics manufacturing, shipbuilding, and steel welding are at a high risk for lead exposure.
  • Professional plumbers may face lead exposure from old lead pipes, traces of lead in dirty water, and lead-based paint in older homes and buildings.
  • Lead manufacturing. Lead-based products are essential for many applications, and individuals who work in lead mining, refining, processing, or manufacturing must always follow industry safety standards. Individuals in these positions typically face the greatest risk of lead exposure.

Workers in these environments can do several things to avoid lead exposure, and it’s important to adopt good habits as early as possible to limit one’s risk of lead poisoning and other lead-related medical issues.

Avoiding Lead Exposure

If you work in a place with a risk of lead exposure, take care not to increase your risk with a few best practices. First, avoid eating or drinking in any areas with a high risk of lead exposure, such as a factory floor or garage. Wash your hands frequently, and make sure your employer provides some sort of hand soap that can remove lead. After finishing a workday in any environment where lead exposure is a risk, take a shower and wash your work clothes to remove lingering traces of lead from your clothing, skin, and hair.

Employers in industries that handle lead-based substances or have employees who regularly encounter lead hazards typically must follow government regulations in some capacity. If an employer fails to meet necessary government compliance requirements or neglects a known safety issue that leads to lead-related illnesses, employees who experience lead-related medical conditions may have the option of pursuing legal action against negligent employers.