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January 8, 2013

National Research Council Finds OSHA Lead Standard "Inadequate"

Renovation Work Lead Hazard Sign
Lead Hazard Sign
A new report from the National Research Council (NRC) states that the current OSHA lead standard offers inadequate protection for workers. According to a NRC press release, blood lead levels below the level deemed safe by OSHA’s standards have been shown to cause nervous system, kidney, heart, reproductive and other health problems.

OSHA established lead exposure standards in 1978 for most industrial workplaces, but a large body of research on the health effects of lead exposure has emerged since then. Under OSHA's lead standard, employees should not be exposed to lead concentrations in the air higher than 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. This limit was set so that workers' blood lead levels would not exceed 40 micrograms per deciliter of blood. However, recent evaluations performed by the U.S. National Toxicology Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offer compelling evidence that health problems can be caused by blood lead levels between 10 and 40 micrograms.

The NRC has concluded that the currently allowable blood lead level of 40 micrograms provides inadequate protection for any other worker populations covered by OSHA’s general industry standard.  Because of the association between air concentrations and blood levels, the NRC also concluded that the 50-microgram OSHA limit for lead in air is inadequate for protecting workers; a lower level is clearly warranted, the report says.

Construction and renovation workers are among those most commonly exposed to airborne lead hazards. Since April 2010, federal law has required renovation, repair and painting contractors to earn lead certification and use lead-safe work practices. Lead-safe practices include posting warning signs and establishing barriers around the work area.

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