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OSHA on lead exposure in the workplace

Lead is a metal that can be found in industries like construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade and transportation. It is used in solder, plumbing fixtures, building materials, ammunition, lead-acid batteries and more. Employers in New Jersey should be aware that OSHA has set a permissible exposure limit for lead in the workplace. However, OSHA has also established an action level, at which point employers must comply with lead standards.

OSHA lead standards cover general industries, construction sites and shipyards. Employers may be wondering what lead exposure levels are like in their industry, in which case they should access OSHA's Chemical Exposure Health Database. This holds data based on the lead samples taken over five years' worth of OSHA inspections, and it gives a snapshot of lead air concentrations across different workplaces.

There is no doubt that construction workers are at the highest risk for lead exposure. Renovating or demolishing an old building can lead to exposure through lead-based paint (banned in 1977). Not all lead exposure is work-related, though; lead can be found in fishing weights.

Lead is usually inhaled through lead-containing dust and fumes, or it can be ingested while eating, drinking or smoking with contaminated hands or clothes. Lead poisoning can lead to anemia, gastrointestinal problems, mental impairment and kidney disease.

Employers should know that there is, strictly speaking, no "safe" level of lead exposure. Workers may develop it without anyone being at fault, in which case victims may file for benefits under workers' compensation law. These will provide wage replacement and cover medical costs as well as short- or long-term disability leave. Once they have achieved maximum medical improvement, victims may want to consult with an attorney. The attorney may even explain how one can strive for a Section 20 or 22 settlement.

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