Lead-Based Paint and Toxic Preservative Coatings
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Employers’ Duty to Protect Workplaces and Employees From Risks
It is not uncommon for IEC to perform a pre-demolition inspection of a structure for asbestos containing materials (ACM) and lead-based paint (LBP). Here we focus on the latter and seek to educate readers on the dangers of LBP. Specifically, the ingestion of lead dust is the primary cause of childhood lead poisoning while inhalation is the primary cause of such poisoning in adults.
Lead-based paint is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as that containing or exceeding 1.0 mg/cm2 or 0.5% by weight. This threshold is used to protect children within their homes. Since less lead in the paint means there is likely less lead in any dust generated, this mitigates the ingestion by normal hand-to-mouth activity of infants and young children. But in the home is not the only area in which LBP can cause harm. Employees in the workplace are also at risk.
The OSHA Lead in Construction Standard 1926.62 applies to all work where an employee may be exposed to lead. Although this standard defines lead, it does not stipulate an acceptable level in any product, paint, or coating. Performing surveys for “LBP” may be common practice, however, it is the interpretation and use of that data which is important. While the paint on a component may contain less than 1.0 mg/cm2, it is very possible an employee may be exposed to an airborne level exceeding the permissible exposure limit (PEL) depending on their activity.
All employers should know it is their duty to provide a workplace free of hazards and 1926.62 regarding LBP is just one. There are hundreds of OSHA regulations. One often overlooked standard is 1926.354 - “Welding, Cutting, and Heating in Way of Preservative Coatings” – which expands beyond just knowing the lead content of a painted metal component and requires employer inquiry into the flammability of a coating by a competent person.
Moreover, 354© references protection against “toxic preservative coatings.” Paints and coatings may contain other metals including cadmium and chromium in pigments as well as binders, solvents, and additives. Any of these ingredients could result is a detrimental airborne exposure. These items are often ignored when solely focused on lead content.
Deservingly, there is a lot of regulatory oversight that addresses LBP hazards in housing to protect our children. However, the focus solely on the lead content of paints and coatings in the construction industry is a mistake. OSHA 29 CFR 1926.62 is a vertical standard and takes precedence over 1926.354; but the dismissal of evaluating these other items can result in an over-exposure or illegal emission that can harm employees in the workplace.
Employers should seek guidance from qualified industrial hygienists and safety professionals to fully understand regulatory requirements and perform thorough evaluation of all the hazards on a project site to ensure worker health and proper solid waste management.