Work involving lead
Many types of work involve some exposure to lead. For example:
- repairing or breaking up batteries containing lead
- foundry work
- restoring old buildings with lead paint and leadlighted windows, or lead sash weights
- repairing radiators
- using high pressure water jets on lead paintwork
- firing weapons at an indoor firing range.
These and others are known as a ‘lead process’.
If you determine that the work being performed in a lead process is likely to cause blood lead levels to exceed —
- for a female of reproductive capacity: 5μg/dL (0.24μmol/L); or
- in any other case: 20μg/dL (0.97μmol/L)
— then it is known as ‘lead risk work’.
If you’re a Person Conduction a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), you must manage the health and environmental hazards associated with exposure to lead in workplaces. You must manage lead risk work and:
- provide information on the health risks to their workers
- notify the workers of the need for health monitoring
- ensure any contamination is contained to the lead process area, and this area is safely kept as clean as is reasonably practicable
- prohibit eating, drinking or smoking in the lead process area
- provide and maintain washing and changing facilities for workers
- provide a system to manage contaminated clothing and protective equipment that does not further spread contamination
- notify the Regulator (WorkSafe Tasmania’s General Manager).
Health risks of lead
You can inhale lead through dust, fumes or mist. You can also swallow it; for example, if your hands come into contact with lead and then you eat, drink or smoke.
Lead can cause immediate and long-term health problems. High levels of lead in your body can cause headaches, tiredness, irritability, nausea, stomach pains and anaemia.
Continued exposure can cause kidney damage, nerve and brain damage, paralysis, lead palsy and even death.
Lead exposure may also adversely affect your reproductive systems (men and women). Unborn babies are even at risk, especially in the early weeks before a pregnancy becomes known.
As the PCBU, you must make sure you provide initial health monitoring (including blood testing) to your workers before they first start lead risk work, or as soon as practicable after the lead risk work is identified (if this is after the worker started the work) and again 1 month later.
The frequency of further blood tests then depends on the results of these initial tests. A copy of all health monitoring reports must be:
- kept by you for at least 30 years
- given to the worker
- not disclosed to anyone else without the worker’s written consent
If the health monitoring report contains —
- test results showing that the worker has reached or exceeded the relevant blood lead level for that person
- results that show that the worker may have contracted a disease, injury or illness as a result of carrying out the work
- any recommendation that you take remedial measures to protect the worker
— it must also be sent to the Regulator. The permanent or temporary removal of the worker from that type of work may be required, and their health closely monitored.
Lead in house paint
Paint containing lead was used in many Australian homes before 1970, but those built more recently may also present a risk to your health. It can be found on interior and exterior walls and features, and on fences and railings.
Exposure to lead is a health hazard, and not just in a workplace. Even small amounts of dust or chips of paint containing lead, generated during minor home repairs, can be a health risk. It may be covered by more-recently applied paint, and becomes an health and safety risk when the paint deteriorates and becomes flaky, powdery or peeling; or during paint removal.
Anyone painting a house or doing maintenance that could disturb paint containing lead should avoid exposing themselves and their families, neighbours and pets to its hazards.