The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has developed blood lead regulations to protect workers who are exposed to lead dust. By monitoring the level of lead in the blood, employees can be certain that they are not being placed in a dangerous or hazardous situation.
Employees Exposed to Lead
Most workers who risk lead exposure are in the construction business. OSHA Regulations define "construction" as "construction, alteration and/or repair, including painting and decorating." This can include workers in the demolition areas when lead or materials containing lead are present; new construction or alteration when materials contain lead, lead contamination clean-up and other situations. It is estimated that over one million workers are exposed to lead on the job everyday.
Employer Monitoring of Lead Blood Levels
OSHA blood lead regulations mandate that employers with workers who are exposed to lead must provide medical monitoring to their employees who on any given day were exposed to lead above the "action level." The action level is the airborne lead level in construction standards and is usually 30 ug/m(3) (micrograms per cubic meter of air), calculated as an eight-hour time-weighted average. Medical monitoring consists of blood sampling and analysis for lead and zinc levels.
Acceptable Blood Lead Levels
Blood analysis that indicates a blood lead level below 40 ug/dl (micrograms per one-tenth liter) is considered acceptable. If an employee tests above the 40 ug/dl blood lead level, then he must be removed from the work area.
Employees Who Test High for Lead
Whenever the results of a blood lead level test indicate that an employee's blood lead level exceeds the acceptable standard, the employer must provide a follow-up blood test within two weeks after the first test. If an employee is removed from work because of exposure to lead leading to an elevated blood lead level, then he must have his blood tested again after one month and then every two months until two consecutive blood tests indicate a blood lead level below 40 ug/dl.
Accuracy of the Blood Lead Testing
OSHA Regulations stipulate that only laboratories approved by OSHA can conduct blood lead tests. Blood lead level sampling must have an accuracy within plus or minus 15 percent or 6 ug/dl, whichever is greater.
Within five working days after a blood lead test, the employee must notify in writing each employee the result of the test. In addition, the employer must notify each employee whose blood lead level exceeds 40 ug/dl that he must be removed from the work site with Medical Removal Protection benefits.
Symptoms of Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning may not have any immediately symptoms, making it difficult to defect. Some symptoms associated with lead poisoning are irritability, abdominal pain, poor appetite and diarrhea.