Workers within the industrial and construction sectors regularly encounter one serious workplace health hazard: lead. In fact, an estimated 1.6 million are exposed to the toxic alloy every year, according to research from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Construction workers are particularly susceptible, accounting for more than half of all cases of lead exposure.
The agency requires employers to protect workers who often deal with lead. Employees can work no longer than eight hours in environments containing the metal and must use respirators and other protective gear. Additionally, firms are forbidden from sending staff into spaces with lead concentrations above 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
Those that fail to adhere to these requirements face costly financial penalties. Last year, OSHA cited Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin, for exposing 14 workers to lead levels 20 times the established limit, according to internal documentation. The agency assessed six willful and 10 serious citations, resulting in a fine totaling almost $1.4 million. It also shut down company operations, stalling multiple lucrative projects.
Luckily, no workers suffered permanent health damage due to the conditions at Fraser Shipyards, as the side effects that accompany lead exposure and poisoning are serious and sometimes fatal. Adults who inhale or ingest significant amounts of lead may experience abdominal, joint and muscle pain, along with high blood pressure and diminished cognitive capabilities, according to the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, prolonged lead exposure can cause reproductive issues in both men and women.
While virtually all industries avoid lead and have for decades, the metal still pops up in places – normally older structures erected prior to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s lead ban, which went into effect in 1977. With this in mind, industrial businesses must do all they can to protect workers from the poisonous metal.