No amount of lead is safe, even for adults.
Lead is a poisonous metal that can be found in common items like paint and fishing sinkers. Lead poisoning is caused by swallowing or breathing lead dust and fumes. Lead builds up in the body over time. Swallowing or breathing small amounts over time can be harmful. A one-time large amount can also be harmful. Lead fumes and dust do not have a smell, so it is important to know how to prevent poisoning in the workplace.
Don't take lead home.
Lead dust can travel easily onto food, water, clothes, skin, and other objects. Learn how to prevent lead from coming into your home below in "Protecting your Family from Lead."
Images: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Jobs, Hobbies, and Other Ways you May Contact Lead
- Painters/paint removers
- Welders/torch cutters
- Building renovators
- Radiator repairers
- Bridge workers
- Shooting range workers
- Soldering workers
- Demolition workers
- Battery manufacturing workers
- Auto body paint workers
- Used electronics recycling (e-scrap) workers
- Metal scrap cutting and recycling workers
- Stained glass or pottery artisans
- Fishing sinker and bullet makers
- Lead smelters (melting lead)
- Eating from leaded cookware
- Drinking water with lead, usually due to lead pipes
- Drinking other liquids that have lead in them
How do Workers get Lead Poisoning?
- Workers can get lead poisoning when working near lead dust, lead-based products, and lead fumes.
- Lead dust can come from sanding or sandblasting areas coated with lead paint. Photo used here and on the Occupational Health webpage (courtesy of Bob King of the Duluth News Tribune) shows an example of sandblasting on a ship.
- Workers can make lead fumes by torching areas coated with lead paint, working with lead solder, or melting lead in a furnace or pot.
Health Problems Caused by Lead
Lead can harm your health before it causes any symptoms.
- Lead can cause permanent harm to both children and adults:
- Increased blood pressure
- Decreased brain function
- Decreased kidney function
- Harmed physical and mental development of your baby before birth
- Increased chance of miscarriage
- Symptoms of lead poisoning can occur slowly or be easily overlooked. These symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Memory loss
- Pain or tingling in hands or feet
- The World Health Organization (WHO) considers that lead is a probable cause of cancer in humans.
Protecting Yourself from Lead at Work
Keep yourself safe from lead at work.
- Ask your employer if you work with lead. The law says your employer must tell you about anything at work that is dangerous, like lead.
- Wear protective clothing at work so lead dust doesn't get on your clothes. Wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE) will decrease how much lead you come into contact with while at work.
- Use cold, damp methods to remove paint.
- Use ventilation systems to remove lead dust.
- Never use compressed air to clean up. Instead, damp mop or wet clean using a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter.
- Lead dust on food or water can cause lead poisoning if swallowed. Do not eat or drink near areas where lead is stored or being worked on.
- To learn more, talk to your safety officer, or contact CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) or the Wisconsin Occupational Health Program. Learn more about what PPE you may need for your job.
Protecting your Family from Lead
Can my family be poisoned if I work near lead?
- Yes. Lead dust can settle on work clothes and you can bring it into your home.
- Lead dust is hard to see.
- Lead is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women.
What can I do to protect my family?
- Shower before leaving work if possible. Otherwise, wash your hands before you leave.
- Don't bring your lunch box, toolbox, or other personal things into the work area. Don't take work items home. If you do, store the items in a heavy plastic bag away from children.
- Change your clothes and shoes before leaving work. Keep dirty work clothes and shoes separate from clean clothes. If you take work shoes or clothes home, store them in a plastic bag away from children.
- Wash your work clothes in a load by themselves.
What if I can't change clothes or shower at work?
- Take off your work shoes in your garage or right as you enter your home.
- Change out of your work clothes as soon as you get home. Wash your work clothes right away if you can in a load by themselves.
- Wash your hands or shower as soon as you get home.
Learn more about keeping you and your family safe from lead:
Fact Sheet: Keep Your Family Safe - Don't Bring Lead Home From Your Job, (P-01737). Available in English and Spanish.
Learn more about childhood lead poisoning:
What Should I do if I Work With Lead?
- A simple blood lead level (BLL) test can show if you have lead poisoning or not.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says no one should have a blood lead level more than 5 µg/dL (test levels are measured in µg/dL).
Lowering Lead Levels
- Talk with your doctor. Your doctor can tell you what to do to lower the amount of lead in your body.
- The most important way to lower lead levels in your body is to remove yourself from the lead source.
Information for Young Workers
- Young workers are at high risk for getting hurt or sick on the job. Every nine minutes, a U.S. teen gets hurt on the job.
- For more information, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Young Workers website or see the Young Worker's Guide to Working Safely in Wisconsin.
You have the right to:
- Work in a safe place and receive safety training in a language that you understand.
- Ask questions if you don't understand instructions or if something seems unsafe.
- Use and be trained on required safety gear such as hard hats, goggles, and ear plugs.
- File a confidential complaint with OSHA. To file a confidential complaint about workplace hazards, visit the OSHA site to learn more.
Your employer must:
- Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and follow all safety and health standards.
- Provide training about workplace hazards and required safety gear.
Ways to stay safe on the job:
- Report unsafe conditions to shift/team leader or supervisor.
- Wear any safety gear required to do your job.
- Follow the safety rules.
- Ask questions and ask for help if needed.
For More Information
- Keep Your Family Safe - Don't Bring Lead Home From Your Job, (P-01737). Available in English and Spanish.
- Lead and Your Health: No Amount of Lead is Safe, Even for Adults, (P-01738). Available in English and Spanish.
- Protect Ship Workers from Lead, (P-01625). One-page fact sheet for ship repairers and builders.
- Lead-safe Wisconsin. How to make your house lead-safe.
- About Lead and Childhood Lead Poisoning
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Lead Webpage
- OSHA Lead Webpage
- NIOSH Webpage on lead and pregnancy/breastfeeding
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Environmental Lead Webpage
Other State Resources
Questions? Can't find what you're looking for? Contact us!