Lead (latin: plumbum), the naturally occurring element (no. 82) has been used as a construction material for thousands of years.
Easily extracted, relatively abundant, malleable but strong, the Romans used it to duct water. In medieval times it found use on roofs or for guttering and pipes. And in the 18th and 19th centuries the manufacturing revolution led to lead paint being available to the masses in industrial quantities.
Despite its wide and varied usage, scientists in the late 19th century confirmed what had long been suspected – lead is toxic. Hence, it’s appellation as a deleterious material.
Lead dust, and the fumes and vapour generated when lead is processed, worked, or recovered from scrap, can be absorbed by the body. Lead poisoning can lead to anaemia. kidney disease and cancer. There is no known ‘safe’ level of lead exposure and as recently as 2013 the World Health Organisation estimated that 143,000 deaths occur per year from lead poisoning, with lead paint being a major contributor.
Awareness of the dangers posed by lead, government legislation and the development and mass production of safer/cheaper alternatives, has seen lead removed from paint in the UK and a drastic reduction in its use in construction. But, lead’s legacy lingers on in older buildings. It is no less dangerous to those who come into contact with it now than when it was first manufactured and installed.
Where is the risk?
Older buildings (pre 1980), are the most likely to have some form of lead containing material (LCM); pipework and/or paint.
Demolition of ceiling walls and floor, preparation of existing joinery, windows, doors etc for redecoration; fixing into previously decorated surfaces, working on existing lead lined roofs, gutters and pipework. Any of these activities could result in exposure to LCMs (dust, fumes and vapour).
How to reduce it?
CLAW, otherwise known as the Control of Lead at Work Regulations (2002), places specific duties on employers to protect their employees if they are likely to be exposed to lead, lead compounds, dust, fumes or vapour at work. First and foremost, these require the employer to assess the risk to a workers’ health and to decide whether or not their exposure to lead is significant. And then to put in place safe systems of work and other controls, including fume and dust extraction, to prevent or control exposure to LCMs, the provision of washing and welfare facilities, and places to eat and drink free from LCM contamination, and appropriate training.
While assumptions can be made on the likelihood of painted finishes being LCMs, confirmation can be achieved with XRF-i analysis. Consistent with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) principles of prevention requirements, this cost-effective method measures lead content in ‘paint+base material’ samples in-situ. The results provide 100% certainty. Key for accurate risk assessments as well as for monitoring the implementation of appropriate measures to control potential future lead exposure risks.
What does it mean for you; the property owner, developer, designer or contractor?
Protecting people’s health and wellbeing is of paramount importance, but ensuring your building or development site is a safe environment and that you are fulfilling your legal obligations is a time consuming activity.
DCP can help. Our health and safety experts have exceptional knowledge in all aspects of health & safety. They can provide practical, sound, cost-effective advice ensuring you meet your legal obligations and keep you and your workforce safe.