There is no known safe level of exposure to lead, which is toxic to multiple body systems, including the reproductive organs. It is estimated that 100,000 workers could be at risk of neurological problems, heart disease and cancer.
Lead poisoning occurs when a high level of lead is absorbed and retained. It is entirely preventable, with the correct precautionary measures. Exposure occurs through inhalation (during soldering, smelting, recycling, stripping of lead paint, using leaded fuel) and ingestion (of lead-contaminated dust, water and food). Symptoms range from abdominal pain to seizures.
In 95% of cases, lead poisoning occurs in adults while they're at their workplace. It is a cumulative toxicant. While adults absorb 15% of ingested lead and retain less than 5%, they absorb and retain up to 70% of inhaled lead.
Once lead enters the body, it is distributed to organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. Lead accumulates in the teeth and bones, however exposure is usually assessed by measuring the level of lead in the blood.
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Control measures include using local extraction on tools, temporary enclosures around work areas, and dampening down dust with water. An expert assessment will identify the key dust control measures required to avoid workers being exposed to lead.