Font Size:

For Workers

What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning is an illness caused by swallowing or breathing lead, which is a heavy metal that is toxic to humans. There are many jobs that can expose workers to lead hazards. The following industries are among those with a known risk of lead exposure:

  • Auto repair
  • Battery manufacturing and recycling
  • Bridge reconstruction
  • Construction and demolition
  • Electronics recycling
  • Firing ranges
  • Foundry operations
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Lead manufacturing
  • Lead mining
  • Lead refining and smelting
  • Plastic manufacturing
  • Plumbing
  • Pipe fitting
  • Printing
  • Rubber product manufacturing
  • Ship building
  • Steel welding and cutting

Take-Home Lead Prevention Strategies

Maximum precautions and safeguards should be taken to prevent lead poisoning and the spread of lead particles to the home environment. In addition to following the standards developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), individuals who work in these or other lead related industries should take the following preventative steps to protect their family from take-home lead:

  • Wash hands, face, and other areas of exposed skin often. Shower and wash your hair at the end of the work shift before exiting the premises.
  • Change out of work clothes and shoes before leaving work, including any clothing worn under your uniform. Always wear clean, uncontaminated clothing and shoes in your vehicle and home.
  • Do not take contaminated work clothes or shoes home. If absolutely necessary, place work clothes and shoes in a sealed plastic container and wash separately from personal clothing, rinsing the washing machine between loads.
  • Workers with children under 6 years of age should discuss their child’s risk of lead exposure with their pediatric medical provider and request annual blood lead testing, especially at 9 to 12 months and 2 years of age.
  • Pregnant and nursing women should discuss their risk of lead exposure with their medical provider and consider blood lead testing.

Health Effects of Lead

In adults, lead exposure can cause many negative health effects. Signs and symptoms vary in severity depending on the amount of lead exposure and the period of time over which it occurs. Low levels of exposure may cause no visible symptoms but can still impact various body systems. The list below provides some of the signs and symptoms that may occur with lead poisoning.

Body System - Health Effects

Blood-forming system - anemia

Cardiovascular system - high blood pressure

Digestive system - abdominal pain, constipation

Kidneys - decreased kidney function, kidney disease

Nervous system - decreased hand dexterity, depression, dizziness, fatigue, forgetfulness, headache, impaired concentration, irritability, lower sex drive, paresthesia, reduced IQ, slower reaction time

Reproductive system - decreased sperm count, delayed conception time, impotence, miscarriage or stillbirth, reduced fertility

Additional Resources

Page last updated: February 5, 2024