Lead Exposure is on OSHA’s Agenda

OSHA wants to revise the standards for occupational lead exposure, as indicated in the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published at the end of June. The agency is looking for comments by August 29, 2022, with a focus on:

  • Blood level triggers
  • Medical surveillance provisions (i.e., testing frequency)
  • Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hygiene practices, and training

Lead is everywhere

Lead is a highly toxic material that is found — in varying concentrations — in the dust and dirt all around us. Lead concentrations in soil, air, and water can be exceptionally high near the sites of historical or ongoing mining operations and smelters and in urban areas, where soil contamination comes from decades of leaded gasoline exposure. Lead concentrations can also be high in workplaces where the substance is used in the production process or found in the waste materials resulting from a production process.

The new rule promises to significantly lower the triggers required for the medical removal of an employee, increase medical surveillance, and add new PPE and training requirements to an employer’s safety compliance responsibilities. Jobs that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified as most at risk for lead exposure include auto repair, construction, demolition, gunsmiths and law enforcement (lead is in ammunition), lead mining/refining/smelting, painters, plastic and polymer manufacturing, recycling, solid waste processing, shipbuilders, and welding.

Why is OSHA doing this?

The current standard for lead exposure was published in 1978 and contains provisions for the medical removal of workers with an elevated blood lead level. That level, set by OSHA 41 years ago, is when BLLs (blood lead levels) were equal to or greater than 50 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) (construction industry) or 60 µg/dL (general industry). Returning to work requires a BLL below 40 µg/dL.

According to OSHA, current research tells us that chronic exposure — and BLLs as low as 10 µg/dL — are associated with various health problems, including neurological disorders, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility. Pregnant women are particularly at risk, as the lead in a mother’s blood can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, and damage to a baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system.

Participate in the process

Employers affected by the new rule are encouraged to read the Federal Register notice for submission instructions and submit comments online before the August 29 deadline. Refer to Docket No. OSHA-2018-0004 when submitting your comments.

If you have any questions or concerns about how this new rule could affect your workplace — or if you have received an OSHA citation for any reason – don’t hesitate to call Orr & Reno for assistance.

About the Author: James Laboe

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