Health Dangers from Lead on the Job

  • Health Dangers from Lead on the Job is available in both English and Spanish in Portable Document Format (PDF).

Lead may hurt you even if you don't feel sick. Levels of lead once thought harmless are now shown to be toxic.

Even Low Levels of Lead Can Cause Health Damage

Studies in recent years have shown it can:

  • Decrease brain function
  • Decrease kidney function
  • Increase blood pressure and increase your chance of having a heart attack or stroke
  • Harm the development of your baby before its born
  • Increase chances of having a miscarriage

Once lead gets in the body, it stays there!

Exposure to Lead

Workers can be exposed to lead by creating dust or fumes during everyday work activities. Fumes are easier to breathe in than dust and may be more dangerous.

You could be exposed to lead dust if you:

  • Grind, cut, drill, sand, scrape or blast surfaces that are coated with lead paints
  • Tear down structures that have been painted with lead based paints
  • Work on leaded cables or wires
  • Pour powders that contain lead pigments
  • Do remodeling and renovation work
  • Handle scrap metal
  • Shoot in and/or clean indoor firing ranges
  • Handle artist pigments
  • Break up old lead batteries

You could be exposed to lead fumes if you:

  • Use heat guns to remove paint from doors, windows, and other painted surfaces
  • Weld or solder lead containing materials such as electronics, stained glass or radiator
  • Torch cut coated and uncoated metal
  • Work in smelting operations such as bronze, brass, copper or iron foundries

You can be also exposed to lead if you participate in the following hobbies:

  • Shoot in an indoor firing range
  • Make your own bullets or fishing sinkers
  • Make stained glass or pottery
  • Remove lead based paint (e.g., home renovation)

How Can you Reduce your Exposure to Lead?

  • Change into work clothes and shoes before beginning work each day. Consider at minimum changing your shoes.
  • Wear a clean, properly fitted air purifying respirator equipped with P100 filters (purple) as a minimum level of protection, in all work areas that have lead dust or fumes. Shave to get the required fit.
  • Wash your hands and face before you eat, drink or smoke.
  • Eat, drink or smoke and store food, drink, cigarettes or cosmetics in areas away from lead dust and fumes.
  • Shower at the end of the day, before you go home.
  • Launder your clothes at work if possible. If you must take clothes home, wash and dry them separately from other family members' clothes.

What is "Take Home" Lead?

Lead dust can be brought into your home on work clothes and equipment. This is called "take home" lead and it can harm anyone who comes in contact with it.

Children & Lead

  • If young children live in your home and you work with lead, launder your work clothes separately.
  • Young children are more susceptible to the toxic effects of lead. Even very small amounts can cause learning problems and serious illness.
  • Lead dust can get in your car, on furniture, floors and carpets. Your child can swallow this lead dust and be poisoned.
  • A child with lead poisoning usually does not look or feel sick. A blood lead test is the only way to know how much lead is in the body.

Who Can Help?

  • Your Employer or Union

    Follow your employer's recommendations for safe cleaning, personal protective equipment and ventilation systems.

  • Your Doctor or other Medical Care Provider

    It is important for your doctor to know about your possible lead exposure even if you do not have symptoms. He or she will determine if lead testing is necessary.

  • New York State Department of Health

    The New York State Department of Health's Bureau of Occupational Health and Injury Prevention can provide guidance, information and technical assistance to you on many occupational health issues. Industrial hygiene services are provided free of charge and can include:

    • consultation by phone or on-site visit
    • technical assistance in controlling workplace hazards
    • worker protection and hazard communication programs
    • guidance on personal and respiratory protective equipment

    Inquiries can be made to (518) 402-7900.

  • Occupational Health Clinic Network

    The New York State Network of Occupational Health Clinics provides medical and educational services for workers exposed to workplace hazards. Inquiries about the Clinic Network can be made to (518) 402-7900.

  • U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration

    If you feel that your employer does not adequately address a safety or health hazard, you have the right to request an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. To find the office nearest you, call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).

  • New York State Department of Labor

    If you are a public employee (work for State, county or city offices), U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards are enforced by the New York State Department of Labor Public Employee Safety and Health program. Inquiries can be made to (518) 457-9000.