Exposure to lead has the potential to cause adverse health effects to exposed workers. The removal of lead from paint and petrol within Australia has significantly reduced background levels and concerns for some workers previously exposed to inorganic lead at work.
However, workers continue to be subject to chronic exposure to lead in a number of industries. Lead can be inhaled through dust or fumes or swallowed through eating contaminated food.
PCBUs have a primary duty of care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and other people (such as premises neighbouring your workplace) are not subjected to risks arising from lead exposure.
PCBUs must assess every lead process in their workplace to determine if it constitutes lead risk work. If you can’t determine if a process includes lead risk work, you should accept that it does until such time as it can be proven otherwise.
We can decide that a process carried out at a workplace is a lead process if we are satisfied that it creates a risk to the health of a worker, having regard to blood lead levels or airborne lead levels in the workplace. Our decision is a reviewable decision.
Changes to blood lead removal levels
The Work Health and Safety (Blood Lead Removal Levels) Variation Regulations 2019 have been made and will come into operation on 1 July 2019, with a two year transitional period for the new blood lead levels. This change reduces the notification levels of the allowable blood lead levels in workplaces, as agreed nationally.
The amendments relate to blood lead levels:
- contained in the definition of ‘lead risk work’ under regulation 394
- that determine the frequency that a PCBU must arrange biological monitoring of workers who carry out ‘lead risk work’
- that mandate a worker’s immediate removal from carrying out ‘lead risk work’
- that determine the threshold at which a PCBU may allow a worker to return to ‘lead risk work’.
Lead risk work means work carried out in a lead process that is likely to cause the blood level of a worker carrying out that work to be more than:
For the period up to and including 30 June 2021
- 10 μg/dL (0.48 μmol/L) for a female of reproductive capacity
- 30 μg/dL (1.45 μmol/L) in other cases.
From 1 July 2021
- 5 μg/dL (0.24 μmol/L) for a female of reproductive capacity
- 20 μg/dL (0.97 μmol/L) in other cases.
Some of the workplace activities exposing people to lead include:
- dry machine grinding, discing, buffing or cutting lead
- manufacturing or recycling lead-acid batteries
- repairs to radiators or vehicle exhaust systems
- melting or casting lead or alloys containing lead, such as lead dampcourses, trophies, yacht keels, leaded brass
- removal of lead paint from surfaces by dry sanding, heat or grit blasting
- demolition involving oxy-cutting of structural steel primed with lead paint
- fire assay involving lead
- handling lead compounds causing lead dust, such as from dry lead pigments, lead UV stabilisers
- spray painting with lead paint (> 1% lead by dry weight).
You must notify us of any lead risk work within 7 days of the risk determination or if a determination in unable to be made. This applies even if the work is short-term, such as abrasive blasting of lead paint from a structure.
You must also advise us in writing of any changes to the information provided in this notification, either before or as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the change.
Emergency services organisations must notify us as soon as is practicable if lead risk work was determined to be carried out in the course of a rescue or administering first aid.
PCBUs must provide biological health monitoring both before and after any worker starts lead risk work at the times prescribed in Regulation 407 (1) of the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (SA).
Monitoring frequency must be increased for any worker involved in an activity or process that is likely to significantly change the nature of or increase the duration or frequency of worker’s lead exposure.
Removing a worker from lead risk work
If you remove a worker from carrying out lead risk work as a result of health monitoring, you must notify us if:
- for the period up to an including 30 June 2021, the worker’s blood lead level is, or is more than:
- 50 μg/dL (2.42 μmol/L) for females not of reproductive capacity and males
- 20 μg/dL (0.97 μmol/L) for females of reproductive capacity
- 15 μg/dL (0.72 μmol/L) for females who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- from 1 July 2021, he worker’s blood lead level is, or is more than:
- 30 μg/dL (1.45 μmol/L) for females not of reproductive capacity and males
- 10 μg/dL (0.48 μmol/L) for females of reproductive capacity
- the registered medical practitioner who supervised the monitoring recommends that the worker be removed from carrying out the work
- there’s an indication that a risk control measure has failed and, as a result, the worker’s blood lead level is likely to reach the point where they would be removed from carrying out lead risk work.
If lead risk work is carried out at your workplace you must:
- keep a copy of the notification you provided us for the period that the lead risk work is carried out
- ensure a copy of the notification is readily accessible to a worker who is likely to be exposed to lead, as well as their health and safety representative.
Working with lead - Work Safe Queensland
Report on blood lead removal levels - Australasian Parliamentary Counsel Committee