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4.0 Controlling the Lead Hazard

  • Issued: September 2004
  • Content last reviewed: April 2011

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

Lead may affect the health of workers if it is in a form that may be inhaled (i.e. airborne particles) or ingested. In order for lead to be a hazard by inhalation, lead particles that are small enough to be inhaled must get into the air. There are three types of particles: dust, fume and mist. Lead dust consists of solid particles created through processes such as blasting, sanding, grinding, and electric or pneumatic cutting. Lead fumes are produced when lead or lead-contaminated materials are heated to temperatures above 500°C, such as welding, high temperature cutting, and burning operations. The heating causes a vapour to be given off and the vapour condenses into solid fume particles. Mists are made up of liquid droplets suspended in air. The spray application of lead-based paint can generate a high concentration of lead-containing mist.

The strategy for controlling airborne lead hazard can therefore be broken down into three basic approaches:

  • prevent lead from getting into the air
  • remove lead present in the air
  • if present in the air, prevent workers from inhaling it.

To prevent the ingestion of lead, workers should exercise good work and hygiene practices.

To avoid the ingestion, inhalation and unintentional transfer of lead from contaminated areas, it is essential to have the following control methods in place:

  • engineering controls
  • work practices and hygiene practices
  • protective clothing and equipment
  • training.

Even with appropriate measures to control lead, some workers may still be affected. For this reason, periodic medical examinations are important for determining if the control measures in place are effective and if workers are suffering from the effects of lead exposure. This is known as medical surveillance (see Appendix 1) and can be considered to be a method for early detection and prevention of lead poisoning.

4.1 Engineering Controls

Workplace parties, which include owners, constructors, contractors, supervisors and workers, involved in construction projects that may expose workers to lead should:

  • Substitute lead-containing coatings and materials with lead-free coatings and materials (e.g. substitute lead-containing paints with non-lead based paints). This may also apply to those who develop specifications.
  • Select methods and equipment for the removal or installation of lead-containing coatings and materials that will reduce dust generation (e.g. wet methods, such as wet sweeping and shovelling, reduce dust generation and should be used whenever practicable). This may also apply to those who develop the specifications.
  • General mechanical ventilation should be provided to remove contaminated air from the workplace, and filtered air should be provided to replace the exhausted air.
  • Local mechanical ventilation should be provided to remove contaminants at the source. This is the most effective method. Power tools that can generate lead-containing dust should be equipped with effective dust collection systems.

4.2 Work Practices and Hygiene Practices

Work practices and hygiene practices are on-the-job activities that reduce the exposure potential. Lead-containing material can accumulate on the hands, clothing and hair. From there it can be disturbed, re-suspended in air and inhaled or ingested. Workers should therefore be able to wash and shower at the end of each shift. The specific washing and decontamination facilities that should be provided for the most hazardous work are described in Section 6 of this guideline. For all work involving lead exposure, there should be no smoking, eating, drinking or chewing in contaminated areas. Food and beverages should be stored in an uncontaminated area.

An effective housekeeping program requires the regular cleanup and removal of lead-containing dust and debris. Surfaces should be kept clean by washing down with water or vacuuming with a vacuum equipped with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Containers of lead-containing waste should be kept tightly covered to prevent dust from becoming airborne. Cleaning with compressed air or dry sweeping should be avoided.

4.3 Protective Clothing and Equipment

Personal protective clothing and equipment should be provided where workers may be exposed to lead. Appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment to prevent skin contamination, include but are not limited to coveralls or full-body work clothing; gloves, hats, and footwear or disposable coverlets; and safety glasses, face shields or goggles. Respirators should be provided to prevent the inhalation of lead where engineering controls and work practices do not control the concentration of lead to below the OEL.

Protective Clothing

The purpose of protective clothing is to prevent skin exposure and the contamination of regular clothing. All clothing and equipment that has been worn in a lead-contaminated area must be removed at the end of each shift and be decontaminated. Under no circumstances should these be taken home. When handling lead-contaminated clothing avoid shaking, as this can be a significant source of exposure to lead dust. Lead-contaminated clothing and equipment should be placed in sealed impermeable plastic bags with proper labels indicating lead contamination. Washing facilities and procedures must be suitable for handling lead contaminated laundry.


Where engineering controls and work practices do not control the concentration of lead to below the OEL, workers should wear respirators. If respirators are used, a respirator program should be implemented. The program should be developed in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, if there is one, and should include written procedures for the selection, use, care and maintenance of personal respiratory protective equipment. Workers should be instructed and trained on the care and use of personal protective equipment before using it. Some workers may have a medical condition that causes them to have difficulty breathing when wearing a respirator. If such workers have written medical proof of their condition, they should not be required to do work that requires a respirator.

Respirator selection

Where respirators are provided, they should be appropriate in the circumstances for the anticipated concentrations of airborne lead. Respirators should be selected in accordance with the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) assigned protection factors (APF).

Use, Care, and Maintenance of Respirators

The following general use, care, and maintenance procedures should be followed whenever respirators are required:

  • respirators should be used and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications
  • storage of respirators should be in a convenient, clean and sanitary location and in a manner that does not subject them to damage or distortion
  • respirators assigned for the exclusive use of one worker, should be cleaned, disinfected and inspected after each shift on which they are used
  • respirators used by more than one worker, should be cleaned, disinfected and inspected after each use
  • any respirator parts that are damaged or that have deteriorated should be replaced before the respirator is used
  • please refer to CSA standard Z94.4-02 for additional information of the use and care of respirators.

Ideally respirators should be assigned for the exclusive use of one worker. But before a decision is made for a respirator to be shared by more than one worker, the following factors should be considered:

  • the fit of the equipment
  • the health and safety risk to the worker that supplying non-exclusive use equipment would cause
  • any undue economic hardship to the employer that supplying exclusive use equipment would cause.

Respirators with a tight-fitting face-piece, must be fitted to the worker in such a way that there is an effective seal between the equipment and the worker's face. Each worker must be fitted for each type of respirator to be worn.

4.4 Training

Training is an important component in preventing worker exposure to lead. Control methods, measures and procedures can only be as effective as the workers carrying them out. It is therefore essential for training to cover the following:

  • WHMIS training,
  • the hazards of lead, including health effects and symptom recognition,
  • personal hygiene, respirator requirements, and work measures and procedures, and
  • the use, cleaning and disposal of respirators and protective equipment;

Instruction and training should be provided by a competent person. This could be the employer or someone hired by the employer. A competent person is defined under the OHSA as a person who:

  • is qualified because of his/her knowledge, training and experience to organize and carry out the work safely;
  • is familiar with the provisions of the act and the regulations that apply to the work; and
  • has knowledge of any potential health and safety hazards in the workplace.

The health and safety representative or the representative of a joint health and safety committee should be advised about when and where the training and instruction is to be carried out.

4.5 Medical Surveillance

Medical surveillance can be used as a preventive measure. By providing regular medical examinations and biological monitoring (i.e. blood-lead tests) on workers exposed to lead, subsequent adverse health effects can be detected. The examining physician can then alert the worker, the employer and the joint health and safety committee to exposure problems in the workplace that might otherwise go unrecognized

Workers working with lead on a regular basis should have pre-placement medical examinations that include blood-lead tests, followed by periodic medical examinations. Blood-lead tests should be taken every six months, or more frequently at the discretion of a physician. Additional information of the medical surveillance program for lead exposed workers can be found in Appendix 1.

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Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.