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Construction hazardous substances: Lead

Lead can be found in construction workplaces. It is commonly used as a specialist material (eg roof flashings) and present in older buildings (eg in paint or pipework). Lead can cause serious health problems such as anaemia or kidney disease and published research has linked exposure to a small number of occupational cancers. This page tells you how to control these risks and why.

What you must do

The Control of Lead at Work (CLAW) Regulation 2002 says you must protect employees against the risks from lead. Follow the Assess, Control and Review model. Pay particular attention to:

Assess

Identify and assess: Identify those tasks where you are going to use lead or create lead dust or fume. Pay particular attention to situations where significant exposure is expected.  This may include:

Control

Follow the controls below. You will have to consider additional controls for particularly high risk tasks like abrasive blasting.

Prevent: Where possible think about eliminating or reducing the amount of lead used or contact with it. Consider:

Control: Even if you minimise some of the risk this way, you may still do other work that might involve exposure to lead. Control the risk by:

Work Method – limit the amount of dust or fume you create. Consider using one or a combination of:

Train: Workers need to know how to use the controls properly. They also need to be aware of the risks from lead. Make sure they have read and understood the guidance Lead and You.

Industry guidance on removing old lead paint can be found on the website of:

Review

Supervise: Ensure that controls such as work methods, PPE and welfare are effective and used by the workers. Anyone wearing tight fitting RPE needs to be clean shaven and face fit tested.

Maintain: Make sure that there is enough water, plastic sheeting, clothing etc. and equipment is properly maintained.

Monitor: Appropriate medical surveillance is needed if workers have significant exposure.

What you should know

You can absorb lead into your body when you breathe in lead dust or fume. You can also swallow lead dust and debris for example if you eat, drink, smoke or bite your nails without washing your hands or face. Any lead you absorb will circulate in your blood. Your body gets rid of a small amount of lead each time you go to the toilet, but some will stay in your body, stored mainly in your bones. It can stay there for many years without making you ill.

If the level of lead in your body gets too high, it can cause symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, irritability, anaemia or stomach pains. Continued uncontrolled exposure can cause more serious problems like kidney, nerve and brain damage, and even possibly cancer.

Updated 2015-07-27