Workplace Biological Monitoring For Lead Exposure Services Across The United Kingdom

Working With Lead Can Cause Serious Health Problems

Working with lead can put your health at risk, causing diseases including headaches, stomach pains and anaemia. Other serious symptoms include kidney damage, nerve and brain damage and infertility. The Control of Lead at Work regulations require employers to control worker exposure to Lead. Biological monitoring of employees can help you to stay within the law. 

Why should lead exposure be monitored

Your body absorbs lead when you breathe in lead dust fume or vapour or swallow any lead for example if you eat, drink, smoke or bite you nails without washing your hands and face. Initially, lead poisoning can be hard to detect — even people who seem healthy can have high blood levels of lead. Signs and symptoms usually don't appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated. Although children are primarily at risk, lead poisoning is also dangerous for adults. Signs and symptoms in adults may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Joint pains
  • Muscle pain
  • Declines in mental functioning
  • Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities
  • Headache
  • Memory loss
  • Mood disorders
  • Reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm
  • Miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women

However,if adequate control measures are in place exposure and it's symptoms are preventable. Biological monitoring is a simple and cost-effective way of checking that control measures are working and being used correctly.

What Do Employers Have To Do?

So as an employer what is your responsibility under the health and safety regulations? If your employees undertake any work that will expose them to lead you will need to take the following steps. 

Assess the risk

The first step is to assess all of the risks across your working areas and practices.

  • Make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.
  • Identify and implement control measures.
  • Record the significant findings of the risk assessment.

Introduce control measures, and carry out air monitoring if exposure is ‘significant’

If there is exposure to lead it is imperative that you introduce control measures to ensure that the amount of lead in air in the breathing zone of any employee does not exceed the appropriate OEL. (Occupational Exposure Limit). It is also imperative that you continually carry out a regular programme of air monitoring if the assessment shows that the exposure to lead is liable to be significant.

Ensure high standards of personal hygiene

It is important that you encourage and enforce high standards of personal hygiene in your workforce. 

  • Provide suitable and sufficient washing facilities.
  • Provide clean areas for employees to eat and drink.

Place employees under medical surveillance if exposure is ‘significant’

Undertake regular biological monitoring of the level of lead in blood or urine to detect any absorption of lead. If the action level is reached or exceeded an employer must:

  • Carry out an urgent investigation to find out why.
  • Review control measures.
  • Take steps to reduce the employee's blood-lead concentration below the action level, as far as is reasonably practicable.

If the concentrations of lead in blood or urine reach the suspension level employees should be taken off any work which exposes them to lead, to prevent the risk of lead poisoning.

Provide employees with information, instruction and training.

Employees should be provided with information, instruction and training including:

  • The possible risks to health of exposure to lead.
  • Details of the appropriate occupational exposure limit for lead and the action and suspension levels.
  • The results of the risk assessment.
  • The appropriate precautions and actions they should take to protect themselves and others from the effects of exposure to lead.
  • The results of any personal air monitoring or biological monitoring that relate to them personally.

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