Chemicals

These Workers Were Overexposed to Lead … By Any Standard

At a municipal storage facility in Danville, Pennsylvania, a painting contractor was conducting abrasive blasting to remove paint from water tanks. An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection showed that the workers were overexposed to airborne lead. As a result, OSHA issued several serious and willful violations against the employer for violations of the lead standard.

The employer was cited under the construction industry standard, which is very similar to the general industry standards. By any standard, the employer failed to protect its workers. Keep reading to find out what it did wrong.

Requirements of the Lead Standards

OSHA’s lead standards, found at 29 CFR 1910.1025 in the general industry standards and at 29 CFR 1926.62 in the construction standards, set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average. Both standards require employers to:

  • Use engineering and work practice controls to limit worker exposures below the PEL or, if that is impossible, to the lowest feasible level. Respiratory protection may be used only when those controls are inadequate.
  • Conduct an exposure assessment measuring the workers’ exposure without reference to respirators. Construction employers are required to put protective measures in place until the exposure assessment is conducted for certain job tasks, including abrasive blasting—this is the major difference between the general industry and construction industry lead standards.
  • Notify employees of monitoring results within 5 working days of receiving the results for construction employers and within 15 working days of receiving the results for general industry employers.
  • Create a written compliance program that is updated at least once per year.
  • Regularly evaluate the performance of mechanical ventilation equipment used to control worker exposures.
  • Document job rotation schedules and other work practice controls used to control worker exposures.
  • Provide respirators, if required, to control exposures, and provide other protective clothing and equipment as needed.
  • Keep surfaces free of lead dust accumulation, and use cleaning methods that do not create airborne lead dust or redistribute lead in the workplace.
  • Provide change rooms with separate storage for clean and dirty clothes; showers; lunch rooms; and handwashing facilities for workers.
  • Provide medical surveillance, biological monitoring, and medical examinations and consultations as needed.
  • Provide training for workers in lead areas and informational signs for lead areas.
  • Keep records of exposure monitoring and other activities required by the standard.

Lead Standard Violations

The painting contractor was cited for several violations of the construction lead standards, including:

Failure to establish a written program. The painting contractor did not have a written compliance program—a serious violation.

Failure to conduct exposure monitoring. OSHA conducted its own monitoring, which showed employees’ lead exposures at 71–81 µg/m3, well in excess of the PEL—another serious violation.

Failure to control employee exposures below the PEL. OSHA’s monitoring showed workers’ exposure far exceeding the PEL, so the citation for failing to conduct exposure monitoring became two citations, with the second citation for exposure in excess of the PEL. This was classified as a willful violation.

Failure to implement all feasible engineering and work practice controls. As discussed above, both lead standards require employers to use engineering and work practice controls to reduce employee exposures to below the PEL or as low as feasible. This was also classified as willful.

Failure to provide shower and handwashing facilities. Lead contamination on workers’ skin and hands can be transferred to their food when they eat or to their faces or respirators, so it’s vital that workers be able to wash their hands before eating or smoking. Before workers leave, they should shower, leaving any contamination of lead on their skin at work. These citations were also willful.

Failure to provide separate storage for clean and dirty clothes. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that workers do not carry lead contamination home to their families—a requirement that protects not just workers, who are covered by workers’ compensation, but also young children, who are especially susceptible to lead poisoning and who are not covered by workers’ compensation. This citation was classified as willful.

Failure to prohibit the use of cleaning methods that would disperse contaminated dust into the air. Workers were observed using compressed air to blow settled dust off of their supplied air helmets and shrouds after they left the blasting area. This violation was classified as willful.

Unfortunately for this employer, its failure to comply with the lead standard gave rise to citations under other standards as well. Tomorrow, we’ll look at other failures that could have been resolved if the employer had paid attention to the lead standard.