Occupational Lead Exposure

Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program

This is Pub # 17-6-1994 in html format.

An Alert for Workers

Lead in the Workplace

These jobs and work activities may have problems with lead exposure:

Lead Outside the Workplace

Workers can take lead dust home on clothes and shoes. This may affect the health of others in the family. Young children are especially sensitive to the effects of lead. If a pregnant woman is exposed to lead, it can harm her and her fetus.

Other sources of lead in the environment include:

Some hobbies involve lead exposure, such as shooting firearms, reloading shells, or making your own fishing weights, stained glass or pottery with lead-containing glaze.

Lead & Your Health

Lead enters your body in two ways:

Once lead gets into your body, it stays there for a long time. Even if you are exposed to small amounts, it can build up in your body over time. Too much lead in your body can damage your brain, nerves, kidneys or blood cells. Lead can also cause infertility in men and harm fetuses. Overexposure to lead is common. Many people with high lead levels do not feel sick or poisoned. These high lead levels can still seriously affect health. The longer you have a high level, the greater the risk of health problems. Damage done by lead may be permanent.

Each person responds to lead differently, some of the symptoms of lead poisoning or overexposure may include:

It is important to note that it is possible to have an overexposure and not experience any of the symptoms listed. If you are exposed to lead and experience any of these symptoms or suspect you have been overexposed to lead, contact your doctor.

The Occupational Lead Exposure Registry

The Department of Labor and Industries collects information from laboratories that conduct blood-lead level tests for lead. This registry is used to pinpoint hazardous jobs and help reduce worker overexposure.

Lead poisoning is completely preventable.

 Your Employer's Responsibilities

Under federal and state regulations employers have a responsibility to ensure that workers are protected from harmful lead exposure. There are two different sets of responsibilities, one for general industry and one for construction companies. The following information is from the lead standard for general industry. Employers must make sure that lead in the air of the workplace is not greater than 50 g/m 3 averaged over an eight-hour period.

You have a right to:

Protect Yourself and Your Family with Safe Work Practices

To protect yourself at work:

To protect your family:

Understanding Your Blood Lead Test

The most common test for lead is called the blood lead level. It measures how much lead is in your bloodstream.


Is there a problem?

The following table presents the range of health problems associated with various blood lead levels. The numbers in the center are micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (ug/dl).

Severity of health problems

Changes occurring in the body
Severe health damage likely. Damage may happen quickly and be permanent 80-110 Brain Damage (Encephalopathy)

Dangerous reduction in blood's ability to carry oxygen

Serious health damage may happen. 55-80  
Lead can be causing damage without symptoms

Lead starts to build up in your system at +20

20-55 Decreased blood production

Male Infertility, Nerve Damage

Decreased hearing, Increased blood pressure in men.

  15-20 Fetal Effects in Pregnant Women
Typical level for adults 0-15 *Average adult blood lead level in U.S. (3 ug/dl)


*Note: No amount of lead is completely safe. Levels near the U.S. average may not be safe for children or during pregnancy.

Others Who Can Help

Your doctor or other health care provider

If you are concerned about lead overexposure for yourself or others in your household, see a doctor. The doctor can arrange for blood lead level testing and help you interpret any exposure and health effects. It is important for your doctor to know about your lead exposure even if you do not have any symptoms. Doctors specializing in occupational medicine can give you specific information about lead.

Your safety officer or industrial hygienist

Find out if your work area has been checked for lead dust or fumes and find out how you can avoid exposure by using protective equipment and controls.

Wash. State Dept. of Labor & Industries (L&I) WISHA Consultation & Compliance Services

L&I enforces the lead standard. These are rules for employers on using lead safely and ensuring that workers are protected from the harmful effects of lead. L&I offers free assistance and information to both employers and employees upon request. They also investigate complaints from workers who feel they are being overexposed to lead or other chemicals.

(360) 902-5500

L&I's SHARP Program

The Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program performs research and analysis of workplace health issues. SHARP administers the Occupational Lead Poisoning Registry and can provide further information on work-related lead poisoning to interested employers, workers and health professionals.

1-888-667-4277 or (360) 902-5669

The Washington State Department of Health

The Department of Health provides information and assistance for cases of lead overexposure in children. (360) 361-2850