Frequently asked questions on lead

Why is lead dangerous?

Exposure to lead can result in a range of symptoms, including

  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • irritability
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • stomach pains

Continued uncontrolled exposure could cause more serious health effects such as:

  • anaemia
  • loss of weight
  • kidney damage
  • nerve and brain damage
  • infertility

What does lead look like?

Do I need to carry out a lead survey?

No - you need to decide whether or not the work you are carrying out will result in employees or other people being exposed to lead. You should consider this as part of the risk assessment process. If exposure to lead is likely to be significant you may need to carry out an initial air monitoring survey to check how much lead is in the air. Further information on when air monitoring surveys are required can be found in the Control of Lead at Work ACOP.

I am removing old paint – how do I do this safely?

You are most at risk if you regularly do common jobs like:

  • remove existing paint coatings in properties built before the 1980s
  • stripping old paint using blow lamps or gas torches
  • dry sanding old paint

You can take simple steps to stop dust and fume:

Plan your work – only strip back old paint if it is flaking, chipping or it is a risk to children.

If paint is in poor condition remove using a combination of chemical paint stripper, wet abrasive paper and on-tool extraction.

If paint is in good condition use wet abrasive paper to make a key for the new coat of paint.

Remove any debris with a damp cloth.

Place any debris, cloths, abrasive paper in a plastic bag for disposal.

HSE's busy builder sheet on lead provides further information.

I work with lead but my employer has no procedures in place to control exposure – what can I do?

Report the matter to your local HSE office or Local Authority Environmental Health Officer. You can do this anonymously.

The workplace health and safety concerns web page provides further information.

What about self-employed people?

If you are self-employed you need to take the same action to protect yourself as an employer takes to protect employees, and to use protective equipment on the same basis as employees.

Will it count as enough training if I (an employer) give the workers a copy of the leaflet Lead and you?

No. Training and supervision is an on-going process involving educating workers about the hazards and risks of working with lead, how to use controls, what to do if something goes wrong and checking periodically that workers are following your instructions. Many workers have a poor standard of reading so you cannot rely on giving them a leaflet.

I have been told that good welfare facilities are important in the control of lead exposure. What are good welfare facilities and why are they important.

Good welfare facilities include clean and dirty areas for work. If you work process involves potential exposures to lead then all PPE/RPE should be separate from you clean clothes. This is often achieved by having a dirty area, where potentially contaminated PPE can be put on/removed, before showering and moving to a clean area where clothes to be worn for returning home are stored. This is important in reducing the opportunity for secondary contamination of your car/home. If these areas become contaminated then there is the opportunity for your family and friends to become exposed to Lead.

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Updated: 2024-02-09