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Published on Feb 25, 2016
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that while many people worry about lead in their homes or in the environment, for some the workplace may offer the greatest potential for exposure.
Lead is a toxic heavy metal. It can be combined with other metals to produce alloys. Lead and lead alloys are often used to make batteries, ammunition and other metal products. In the past, lead was also used regularly in fuel, paint, ceramics, caulk, pipes and solder among other things.
Due to potential health issues from exposure, the amount of lead used in these products today has lessened or has been removed. Though used less often, NIOSH reports that lead is still common in many industries, including construction, mining and manufacturing. In these and other industries, workers can be at risk of being exposed to lead, by breathing it, ingesting it or coming in contact with it.
NIOSH provides the following information for workers about how lead exposure can occur:
• Workers can be exposed by breathing-in lead fumes or lead dust. Lead fumes are produced during metal processing, when metal is being heated or soldered. Lead dust is produced when metal is being cut or when lead paint is sanded or removed. Lead fumes and lead dust do not have an odor, so workers may not know they are being exposed.
• Lead dust can settle on food, water, clothes and other objects. If a worker eats, drinks or smokes in areas where lead is being processed or stored, they could ingest it. Not washing one’s hands before eating or touching one’s mouth are also ways it could be ingested.
• Workers can also be exposed by coming into contact with lead dust. Some studies have found lead can be absorbed through skin. Workers that handle lead and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, could be exposed. Lead dust can also get on clothes and hair. If this happens, it’s possible that a worker could track home some of the lead dust, which may also expose their family.
These are just a few things to know about lead exposure risks in the work environment. To learn more about this or other occupational, indoor air quality, health, safety or property issues, please visit the websites shown on the screen.