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Review of OSHA's Lead Standard Finds it Effective

A review by OSHA of its Lead in Construction Standard (29 CFR 1926.62) indicates the standard has helped reduce blood lead levels among construction workers, thereby reducing the incidence of lead-related disease.

The lookback review also found the standard has not had a negative economic impact on business, is not overly complex and does not conflict with other regulations. OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr., however, emphasized that those working in the construction industry still are being exposed to high levels of airborne lead.

“Employers and employees in the construction industry stand to benefit from the results of this lookback review,” Foulke said. “Certain construction jobs still experience high levels of airborne lead and the retention of this Standard is necessary to ensure employees are protected from high lead exposure.”

As a result, OSHA concluded that it was necessary to retain the standard but will consider improving outreach materials and increasing their dissemination. In addition, the agency will consult with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and EPA about developing a unified training curriculum and further integrate initial assessment interpretations to reduce cost and simplify requirements for small businesses.

OSHA estimates that in 2003, 649,000 employees were exposed to lead at levels that may trigger application of the standard. Between 1993 and 2003, federal OSHA and state-plan states conducted 4,834 inspections and issued 12,556 citations related to lead exposure, the agency said.

Elevated blood lead levels can produce irreversible adverse health effects, and studies have shown lead disease and lead-related diseases such as neurological and kidney disease and negative cardiovascular effects in construction employees. Construction employees primarily are exposed to lead when they remove lead-based paint from structural steel bridges or buildings, engage in the removal of lead from buildings or prepare old residential units for painting or remodeling. A relatively small number of construction employees are exposed to lead when using molten lead to seal cables, when working with lead-containing mortar and lead sheeting and when repairing old plumbing and performing work on older structures, as well as on shielding for ionizing radiation, radioactive materials and X-rays.

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