OSHA Targets Possible Lead Exposure

Sept. 11, 2001
A Washington, D.C., labor attorney advises employers who may have lead exposures at their facilities to start preparing for an OSHA inspection.

On July 20, 2001, OSHA announced the start of a National Emphasis Program to reduce occupational exposures to lead.

According to OSHA, lead exposure is a leading cause of workplace illness and can damage blood forming and cause problems in the nervous, urinary and reproductive systems.

OSHA's stated goal is to achieve a 15 percent decrease in occupational lead exposure by fiscal year 2002.

The program is outlined in compliance directive CPL 2-0.130, "National Emphasis Program: Lead," and applies to all workplaces under OSHA's jurisdiction including general industry, construction, longshoring, maritime, and shipyards.

The compliance directive includes a list of Standard Industrial Codes in which there are high lead exposure levels or documentation of high blood lead levels, including construction that involves welding, cutting, brazing, or blasting on lead paint surfaces, most smelter operations where lead is a trace contaminant or a major product, secondary lead smelters where lead is recovered from batteries, and radiator repair shops.

The program will be effective in all states where federal OSHA has authority. The 24 state-plan states and two territories that operate their own occupational safety and health programs are encouraged, but not required, to adopt a similar emphasis program.

Attorney Mark Dreux with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Arent Fox, said that because of OSHA's stated goal of a 15 percent reduction in lead poisoning through this program, OSHA inspectors will have a quota to meet on a yearly basis, giving them a strong incentive to find violations.

"Industries or work sites where there is 'potential' for lead exposure will be targeted for inspections," said Dreux.

"'Potential' for lead exposure can be subjective, and may often be determined by area offices on the basis of scant information, such as past inspection history, state and local health departments, industry advertisements, telephone books or yellow pages, employee unions, and local knowledge," warned Dreux. "In the construction industry OSHA may look to federal or state Departments of Transportation contracts, Dodge reports, state and local building permits, business administrators of employee unions, or to local knowledge."

Druex said the inspection sites are randomly selected from the lists of worksites that area directors create and compliance officers are directed to make an initial determination of whether or not the potential exists for worker exposure to lead.

"As an example, if the employer is removing lead sewer pipes or is engaged in bridge work, a potential exposure to lead exists if the workers are engaged in activities which generate dust or fumes, such as sawing, grinding, or torch cutting," said Dreux. "OSHA may evaluate surface concentrations of lead and the availability of hygiene facilities, practices, and engineering controls, as well as all related written documentation, such as records, monitoring results, medical records, respirator fit testing records and procedures, and training materials)."

Dreux said Arent Fox is advising employers who may have lead exposures at their facilities to start preparing for an inspection.

OSHA's Lead Standard, 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.1025, requires employers to make an initial determination as to whether any employee is, or may be, exposed to lead at or above the "Action Level" (currently set at 30 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air averaged over an eight hour workday).

If any such potential expires exists, employers incur additional obligations, such as providing respirators and ventilation systems, housekeeping measures, medical surveillance and removal, and training, said Dreux.

Mark Dreux can be contacted for additional information regarding compliance with the lead standard or assistance in preparing for an inspection by email at: [email protected].

Edited by Virginia Foran

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