Lead is an insidious hazard that can be carried home on workers’ clothing and skin, exposing their families to its harmful effects.
Workplace Solutions: Reducing Workers’ Lead Exposure during Water Service Line Removal and Replacement is specifically meant to address the potential for lead exposure for workers replacing lead service lines. It also provides recommendations to reduce lead exposure.
Based on 2019 hazard evaluation of city water workers
NIOSH chose to address this because of “recent efforts to improve municipal water systems and protect public health by removing and replacing lead water service lines in the U.S.,” which leads to potential worker exposure to lead-contaminated pipes and soil.
The resource is based on a 2019 hazard evaluation among city water department employees who were tasked with replacing water service lines. Air samples that were collected at the worksites were below occupational exposure limits. However, NIOSH investigators found lead on samples collected from workers’ hands and work gloves as well as the surfaces inside locker rooms and vehicles.
“It’s important for employers and workers to be aware of the potential for lead exposure and take steps such as those outlined in NIOSH’s Workplace Solutions document to protect the safety and health of all workers involved in lead pipe replacement activities,” said NIOSH Director John Howard.
Workers who are at risk in these situations could include managers, line supervisors or field workers from plumbing companies, city utilities or construction companies that work with water lines. Exposure could come from excavated pits, cutting or handling lead pipes, or digging with shovels and heavy equipment.
Lead can be unknowingly carried home on a worker’s skin, clothes or personal items, which can then lead to exposures for other members of the household.
Recommendations for reducing exposure
To reduce lead exposure, NIOSH recommended solutions based on the hierarchy of controls, including:
- developing a written lead monitoring and control program
- monitoring airborne lead exposures
- providing portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-filtered vacuums to clean work vehicles, and
- improving training, testing and housekeeping.
NIOSH also recommended that workers improve their work practices to help reduce their lead exposure by:
- cleaning surfaces
- avoiding bringing their personal items into contaminated areas, and
- using PPE.