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Worksafe and Lead by Aquarium Monsters Team

What Worksafe say about working with Lead in Australia

Lead is a poison that builds up slowly in the body and can cause adverse health affects to the nerves, blood, digestive and reproductive systems.

Lead poisoning may occur when excessive amounts of lead accumulate in the human body. It is most likely to enter the body as fumes or dust, when it is easily inhaled, or as contamination on hands or face, where it can be swallowed.

Poisoning by mouth may occur if personal hygiene is poor. Lead can be swallowed if food, drinks or tobacco are contaminated. Lead is usually not absorbed through the skin.

In most workplaces it is possible to develop systems for the safe handling of lead. Setting up and maintaining such systems is an employer and employee responsibility.

Occupational lead contamination can be a hazard in lead smelting and refining, lead burning, welding, soldering of radiators, manufacture or breaking down of lead batteries and in fire assay analysis for gold.

The only safe way of working with lead is to keep it outside the body.


Lead is a poison which will gradually accumulate in the human body. With each small intake of lead, the level in the body will increase until there is enough lead to cause illness.

Everyone working with lead must follow strict safe working procedures to reduce the risk of breathing or swallowing lead. This is particularly important for workers who have increased levels of lead in their bodies.

Some changes in body chemistry can be detected before a dangerous lead level occurs. Blood tests for lead workers may be necessary.

Tips to Avoid Lead Entering the Mouth

Always wash hands, face, neck and arms before eating, drinking or smoking as required in Regulation 831.

Eat, drink or smoke only away from work area.

Store tobacco, food and drinks away from work area.

Remove contaminated clothing or equipment before entering eating areas (Regulation 5.61).

Lead dust can be caught under fingernails. Keep them clean and do not bite them.

Employers should:

  • Introduce a system of work that excludes or minimises lead contamination (Regulation 5.20).
  • Arrange Health Surveillance with an Appointed Medical Practitioner (AMP) for persons working in a lead-risk job (Regulation 5.56).
  • Provide adequate and appropriate education and training (Regulation 5.58).
  • Ensure adequate supervision (Section 19(1)(b)).
  • Provide and maintain adequate washing and showering facilities (Regulation 5.60).
  • Arrange the laundering or renewal of work clothes at least once a week, more frequently when this will significantly help protect the worker from lead risks (Regulation 5.60).
  • Provide good natural ventilation.
  • Provide, as far as practicable, local exhaust extraction to remove fumes or dust from workers' breathing space, especially where there is a likelihood of frequent or heavy lead fume or dust exposure (Regulation 5.20).
  • Where necessary, provide suitable protective equipment (Regulations 5.20, 3.33 and 3.40), eg:

Gloves that help prevent lead accumulating on hands, including under nails.

Respirators designated or marked as complying with AS/NZS 1716 and stored in clean airtight containers.

Hair covering.

Aprons of rubber or plastic.

Employees should:

  • Wear a suitable respirator if fumes or dust are likely. Keep it clean and sealed in an airtight container when not in use.
  • Always wash hands and face before eating or drinking.
  • Use (switch-on) the local exhaust ventilation system where provided. Where ventilation noise levels are high, consider consultation with your employer on possible control measures for this, including hearing protection.
  • Wear plastic or rubber aprons and gloves when likely to touch lead dust or powder.
  • Handle work clothes gently so as not to spread dust (no not blow down protective work clothes or personal protective equipment with compressed air).
  • As far as practicable, wear


    protective work clothes as washed or re-newed by your employer.

  • Travel to and from work in clean clothes. Avoid taking the problems of lead dust home to your friends or family.
  • Avoid excessive heating of metallic lead as this increases the amount of lead fumes.
  • Know which products contain lead. Burning, welding, flame cutting or melting materials heavily coated with lead-bearing products (e.g. some paints) will produce dangerous fumes.

Management should ensure that:

  • The work area is cleaned regularly.
  • Damp sweeping or vacuuming is used. (Never dry sweep or blow dust away.)
  • Where possible, lead work and the work areas are kept damp.




Copies of this publication may be freely printed and distributed provided that WorkSafe Western Australia receives appropriate acknowledgement, and that no substantial changes are made to the text.


[WorkSafe Western Australia] LEA 91-93-95-(96)

For more information, please visit this articles Web Site
This article was published on Sunday 15 January, 2006.
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