Education is the key element to preventing worker lead exposure in the construction industry because the rapid and frequent changes in the work environment make identifying the threat a challenge, according to a study published in a special issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
The study, "Clinical Evaluation and Management of Lead-Exposed Construction Workers," says educational efforts should be undertaken whenever excessive lead absorption in an individual or group of workers is identified.
The study specifically reviews the adverse effects of lead and presents an approach to the diagnosis, management and prevention of lead-related illness.
Training is a requirement of the OSHA lead standard and is the responsibility of the employer, the study noted.
Out of the approximately 1 million construction workers in the United States exposed to lead, the majority work in commercial or residential renovation where lead-based paint exists, the article said.
This environment, unlike other industrial settings where lead exposure can occur, is marked by variable exposure conditions, even within the course of a single work day, the study said.
This variability of exposure conditions presents frequent opportunities for workers to ingest lead on the construction site.
Hand contamination is often common and workers frequently wipe their faces with lead-dusted hands in the course of a day's work, the article said.
Article author's Stephen M. Levin and Mark Goldberg recommend that an industrial assessment of the work site should be attempted, prompted by the identification of excessive exposure cases.
This can be done by working through the construction contractor and any consultant industrial hygienist employed on the project.
The authors also advise coordinating exposure control with worker representatives or unions to enlist their assistance in educating workers at risk of lead poisoning and to implement changes in work practices.
If attempts to correct identified exposure problems are not corrected, Levin and Goldberg suggest contacting public health agencies for help.