By Melanie Mesaros
Before Robert Chapman finishes up for the day, he and his Sisu Painting crew vacuum dust off each other's coveralls. Then, he removes his mask and goggles and bags the clothing for washing. It's part of the company's process to ensure workers are not exposed to lead from the aging home they are refinishing.
"It's not that complicated to follow the rules, but you need to think about the steps needed," he said.
For this job – a home built before 1978 – the workers spray water as they scrape off old exterior paint. The work practice helps reduce dust and can prevent exposures.
Protection starts with the proper personal
protective equipment and planning the job.
"It doesn't take much lead to have an overexposure," said Penny Wolf-McCormick, Oregon OSHA's Portland health enforcement manager. "You may not have symptoms, but the lead will still be adversely affecting your body."
Lead can damage a person's nerves, stomach, intestines, kidneys, reproductive functions, and red blood cells. Symptoms usually build up slowly from repeated exposure to small amounts of lead.
Wolf-McCormick said Oregon OSHA inspections show inexperienced workers or those trying to finish a job quickly have the most overexposures.
Sisu Painting owner Nancy Long created her safety program a few years ago after contacting Oregon OSHA for help.
"I was under the impression that Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA rules were the same," she said. "Then, I realized I needed to take other measures to protect my staff – things like providing a hand washing station and keeping training records."
Wolf-McCormick said it's critical for workers to wash up before eating, drinking, or even smoking.
"If you have lead dust or particles on your hands and you eat a sandwich, you are eating the lead," she said. "The particles may not be visible on your hands so hand washing is really important."
According to Wolf-McCormick, addressing work practices, using good hygiene, and wearing personal protective equipment are key measures to prevent exposures. Also, employers must have blood lead testing done to determine a worker's baseline and exposure over time.
"The blood sampling can tell you whether the controls you are using are really working," said Wolf-McCormick. "It can also tell you if you have workers who are taking their masks off or not washing their hands before eating."
Chapman, a licensed and certified painter, said he assumes lead is present in older homes and doesn't take chances.
"Everyday we clean, even if we aren't done," he said.
Long limits the number of lead jobs her workers perform each year, sometimes turning down 10 jobs a week.
"I can't have Robert exposed to lead all summer," she said. ▉
Assume employees are exposed to lead at levels above the PEL until you have done air monitoring to determine their exposures. You must provide all of the following until you can show they're exposed below the action level:
If you want to receive the Resource Newsletter, sign up for future issues here.
Reprinting, excerpting, or plagiarizing any part of this publication is fine with us. Please send us a copy of your publication or inform the Resource editor as a courtesy. If you have questions about the information in Resource, please call 503-378-3272.
For general information, technical answers, or information about Oregon OSHA services, please call 503-378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, 800-922-2689.