Occupational Exposure

Take home lead can make kids sick.

If you are exposed to lead through work or hobbies, you may be unknowingly bringing it into your home. Lead poses a serious health risk to young children. This information can help you lower your child’s risk of exposure.




What is Occupational Exposure?

Occupational exposure is defined as having contact with a potentially harmful physical, chemical, or biological agent as a result of one’s work. One of these substances is lead. Workers who regularly come into contact with lead in the workplace may be at risk of occupational exposure.

Workers are exposed to lead as a result of the production, use, maintenance, recycling, and disposal of lead material and products. Lead exposure occurs in most industry sectors including construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation, remediation, and even recreation (OSHA, 2019).

Occupations and Recreational Activities Associated with Lead Exposure

  • Firing range workImage result for soldering
  • Demolition
  • Renovation
  • Mining
  • Automobile/radiator repair
  • Plastic/glass manufacturing
  • Iron/steel working
  • Welding/soldering work
  • Battery manufacturing
  • Road construction
  • Lead smelting
  • Propeller engine aircraft maintenance

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Lead Can Enter the Body in Three Ways:

  • It can be inhaled as lead dust or fumes.
  • It can be ingested (swallowed) as lead dust when it gets on hands and into food, drink, or cigarettes.
  • Lead can be absorbed through prolonged skin contact with leaded gasoline. 

Lead Fumes are Produced in Many Ways. Activities May Include:

  • Using heat guns to remove paint from doors, windows, and other painted surfaces.
  • Welding or soldering lead-containing materials.
  • Torch cutting painted and uncoated metal.
  • Exposure to exhaust from vehicles that use leaded gasoline (i.e., propeller engine aircraft, racing cars, farm equipment, and marine engines). 

Lead Dust is Produced in Many Ways. Activities May Include:

  • Grinding, cutting, drilling, sanding, scraping or blasting surfaces that are coated with lead paints.
  • Tearing down structures that have been painted with lead-based paints.
  • Cutting through leaded cables or wire. Pouring powders containing lead pigments.

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Early signs of lead poisoning:

  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Metallic taste in mouth 
  • Poor appetite

Later signs are:

  • Aches or pains in the stomach
  • Constipation
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Memory problems
  • Aggressive behavior

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What is “Take Home” Lead?

Workers who are exposed to lead at the workplace may also unintentionally track lead dust into their homes and expose children and other family members. This is known as para-occupational or “take-home” lead exposure. This happens when lead dust is carried home in vehicles or on clothes, shoes, skin, and hair. “Take home” lead can cause lead poisoning in children, which can have a serious effect on their health.

Children of lead-exposed workers have disproportionately high BLLs when compared to other children. One study estimated that nationwide 48,000 families have children under age 6 living with household members occupationally exposed to lead (Roscoe et al., 1999). Occupations that have been found to cause take home lead exposure include mining, automotive radiator repair, battery reclamation, and construction.

Lead inhibits the bodies of growing children from absorbing iron, zinc and calcium, minerals essential to proper brain and nerve development. Symptoms include attention-related behavioral problems, decreased cognitive performance, and greater incidence of problem behaviors.

Many children with lead poisoning may not look, act, or feel sick. The only way to know if your child has lead poisoning is by asking your provider for a blood lead test. According to the CDC, children should be tested for lead exposure at 12 months, 24 months or at least once before age 6 if not previously tested. Ask your healthcare provider. He or she can help you and can recommend treatment if your child has been exposed.

Protect Your Family From Lead. Follow these recommendations to keep yourself and your family safe. Wash your hands before eating, drinking, smoking or touching anything. Change your clothes and shoes before going home or getting into your  car. Wash lead-exposed clothes separately from regular laundry. Use a HEPA vaccuum to clean lead dust from your car and home. Talk to your doctor about a lead test if you suspect exposure.


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Your Employer’s Responsibilities

Employers are required to protect workers from inorganic lead exposure under OSHA lead standards covering general industry and construction. The lead standards establish a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3 of lead over an eight-hour time-weighted-average for all employees covered. The standards also set an action level of 30 µg/m3, at which an employer must begin specific compliance activities. OSHA’s Lead Standard requires that employees observe good personal hygiene practices, such as washing hands before eating and taking a shower before leaving. For more information please visit the lead standards section of OSHA’s webpage.


CDC – Lead: How You Can Keep Yourself and Your Family Safe from Lead – NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic. (2018, June 18). Retrieved November 4, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/lead/safe.html.
EPA Takes Final Step in Phaseout of Leaded Gasoline. (2016, August 11). Retrieved February 28, 2020, from https://archive.epa.gov/epa/aboutepa/epa-takes-final-step-phaseout-leaded-gasoline.html
Roscoe RJ, Gittleman JL, Deddens JA, et al. Blood lead levels among children of lead-exposed workers: a metaanalysis. Am J Ind Med. 1999;36:475- 481.
United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2019, from https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/lead/.
Warniment, C., Tsang, K., & Galazka, S. S. (2010). Lead poisoning in children. American Family Physician, 81(6), 751-757.

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