When working on building or constructions sites, most risks and hazards are relatively obvious. However, one of the less obvious hazards is handling and dealing with lead.
Lead is a toxic substance that builds up in the body, posing serious health risks to those exposed to it. When you, or one of your employees, work with lead, it accumulates on your skin and clothing in the form of dust. It can be ingested or inhaled or ingested, which can damage the lungs, kidneys, nervous system, intestines and reproductive system.
There is no cure for lead poisoning, and should an employee suffer illness as a direct result of work you asked them to carry out, you could suffer a significant claim under the employers' liability element of your Construction Insurance.
How Could Someone Be Exposed?
Lead can often be found in the pipes and paint of older buildings and homes, particularly those built prior to the 1970s. During activities such as demolition, window replacement or opening up walls, dangerous amounts of built-up dust containing lead can be released, putting both yourself and your team at risk of exposure.
Even if the appropriate protective equipment is being used, problems can still occur if people smoke, drink, eat or bite their nails without washing your face and hands. Ensure that all employees are given appropriate instruction and training to minimise the risk of lead poisoning.
Try To Contain the Working Area
When working in areas which may be contaminated with lead, try to contain the working area not only to keep occupants out, but also to ensure that other areas of the building are not contaminated with lead dust.
- Create a sealed air lock at the entrance to the area in which you are working, and at the vents and heating ducts.
- Remove everything, including furniture, from the work area. If an item is too large to move, cover it with heavy plastic sheeting secured with tape.
- Cover floors with heavy plastic sheeting.
- Cover doors with two layers of protective sheeting: one with a vertical slit and one overlapping layer hung from the top of the doorframe.
Protect Yourself and Employees
Without the right protective equipment, your employees may ingest or inhale lead or even risk bringing it home and spreading the risk to their family. Always ensure all your workforce wear the following equipment:
- Appropriate Safety goggles
- Disposable protective coveralls, which extend to cover arms fully
- Disposable shoe covers
- Painters Cap or Hat
- Properly fitting mask / respirator
Risk Management and Assessments
Risk Assessments should be carried out at each site prior to commencement of work and this should include the risk of the presence of lead. If the initial risk assessment highlights a significant risk, the best advice is to engage a specialist lead survey whereby the property area can be adequately tested to ascertain the full level of exposure.
Best Working Practice
Ensure a clear policy that people wash their hands and face thoroughly whenever they stop to eat, drink, smoke or use tobacco.
At the end of each session, carefully remove all clothing and arrange for it to be washed separately before returning home.
How To Minimise the Dust
- Use wet sanders or misters to keep down dust from sanding and drilling.
- When a heat gun is necessary, use a low-temperature setting.
- Pry and pull apart components instead of pounding and hammering.
- Never use open-flame burning or torching of lead-based paint, and never use high-speed sanders or grinders without exhaust controls.
Keeping Your Work Area Clean
The safest way to reduce risk is to keep your workspace as clear and clean as possible. Try to clean the entire area using one of the following methods not only at the end of the working day, but also at regular intervals throughout the day.
- Wet mop and wet sweep the work area daily, changing the mop water frequently. Strain out any debris from the mop water and dispose of it safely.
- Vacuum walls, tops of doors and any other accessible surfaces. Ensure your vacuum cleaner is equipped with a filter or you could inadvertently be spreading dust.
- Dispose of your personal protective equipment or place it in a separate laundry bag or container.
- Continue to keep the work area completely separate from the rest of the building.
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