Construction and Lead Exposure

Since 2010, the EPA has increased their enforcement of their RRP regulations regarding the safe handling of lead-based paint and materials in renovation projects for homes built before 1978. While the regulation may seem inconvenient to many contractors looking to complete projects quickly, the rules are in place to protect both the occupants of the structure and the renovation team. Lead has been a problem for many people in the construction industry for years, and the EPA’s regulations are working to change that.

Lead in the Workplace

For most employees, lead in the workplace is not much of an issue. The likelihood of the heavy metal becoming airborne and interfering with their health is relatively minimal. However, for renovation crews, the risk is significantly higher. Most crews stir up dust the moment renovations begin—it’s part of the job. While regular dust particles are not harmful to most people, lead-based paint dust can cause several problems.

Workers may experience headaches, high blood pressure, nausea, joint pain, and in severe incidents, cardiorespiratory arrest. Even working on a site for a few days without the proper handling techniques in place can put workers at risk for severe side effects. Those working in unsafe conditions for an extended period may experience long-term health conditions.

The Risk for Families

Perhaps worst of all, workers performing renovations in unsafe conditions are placing their families at risk. The contaminated dust can embed itself in their clothing and hair. When they head home at the end of the day, those particles go home with them. When their family members interact with them or handle the contaminated clothes, they’re at risk for inhaling the lead dust. The gradual buildup of lead exposure, even second-hand, can cause the same health complications for family members who never set foot on the job site.

Women and children are the most at-risk for long-term complications from lead exposure. Pregnant women often suffer miscarriages due to elevated lead levels and children may develop learning disabilities and long-term health conditions from the frequent exposure. Crew members looking to start a family or workers who are pregnant should limit their exposure to lead as much as possible.

The EPA’s RRP Rule is Just the Beginning

The EPA’s guidelines lay out the proper safe handling procedures for renovation crews and workers involved in home improvements for structures built before 1978. Millions of homes still contain lead materials, and these guidelines are in place to keep workers safe as they perform the renovations. However, the EPA’s rules are not the only ones in effect for renovation crews.

OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, places some strict requirements for construction firms and workers exposed to lead materials in the course of their duties. Individuals engaged in demolition, renovation, repainting, emergency cleanup, and other maintenance all fall under the protection guidelines. Employers are expected to comply with all OSHA regulations to reduce exposure to employees.

Employers must provide proper respiratory protection, clothing, equipment, and training necessary to keep workers safe on the job. The EPA’s certifications required for renovation and construction firms address these needs and provide clear instruction on proper handling and containment procedures for each stage of the project.

Both OSHA and EPA work together to keep workers safe. The OSHA regulations require that employers examine the site for lead and educate employees on how to properly complete the renovations while limiting their risk of exposure to the heavy metal. The EPA’s requirements stipulate that a certified member of the crew supervise and provide onsite training for workers, guiding them on how to stay safe while working with lead-contaminated products and waste.

What’s the Difference?

The EPA’s requirements are geared towards protecting homeowners and occupants from lead poisoning as a result of home renovations. The goal is to reduce the number of children and adults with higher than average lead levels in their blood stream while getting rid of the problem material safely.

OSHA’s regulations are designed to protect the contractors performing the actual renovations. While many of the procedures are the same (proper containment, respiratory protection, safety gear, etc.) the purpose is solely on keeping workers, not homeowners, safe.

Exposure and Consequences

The EPA RRP rule protects homeowners and occupants by assessing fines on any construction firm found to be in violation of the guidelines. The fees will vary based on the severity of the violation, and the time it takes to remedy the violation. However, the certification requirements and rules do little to protect workers’ health. OSHA’s regulations provide a clear outline of what is required should an employee suffer lead exposure on the job.

The employer must provide medical surveillance for any employee found to be exposed to lead above the accepted level. Furthermore, they must provide adequate protective gear and training for employees at no additional cost to the employee. Any violation of these requirements may result in an investigation by OSHA inspectors. Should the investigation uncover negligence on the part of the employer, the company must fix the problems as soon as possible.

If employees are injured on the job, either as a result of improper training or lack of appropriate equipment, they may be eligible for workers’ compensation. Worker’s compensation covers the medical expenses incurred as a result of the work-related injury and may even help recover part of their lost wages, should they be unable to return to work due to a lengthy recovery.

There’s no denying that construction workers are often at risk for the highest amounts of lead exposure. Obtaining an EPA-approved lead handling certification is required, but the techniques it outlines will help protect workers from lead exposure on the job. When combined with OSHA’s regulations regarding lead exposure, it’s entirely likely the risk of lead exposure will decrease over time.

While there are no EPA guidelines currently in effect for construction crews working on commercial buildings, the OSHA requirements will go a long way towards providing adequate workplace safety. For more information on OSHA regulations or to gain a better understanding of workers’ compensation claims, visit their website.