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OSHA now protects lead-exposed workers.

Landlords, building owners and managers, and contractors should be aware that construction, demolition, repair, clean-up and renovation work that involves removal of lead-based paint covered surfaces or materials containing lead can expose workers to serious health hazards.

In response, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") recently began regulating exposure of construction workers to lead-contaminated debris, lead dust and materials made of lead. The new occupational lead exposure standards are wide ranging in scope. They are intended to protect nearly one million construction workers around the country who are exposed to lead, including workers in commercial and residential remodeling, wrecking and demolition, painting, structural steel erection, and highway, street, bridge and tunnel construction.

The standards, which were required by Title X of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992, became effective on June 3, 1993. They cover a number of areas, including the following: Engineering controls and good work-place practices, including periodic exposure assessments and written compliance programs; employee exposure levels; respiratory protection; protective clothing and equipment; hygiene and housekeeping; medical surveillance, monitoring and removal from the workplace, if necessary; recordkeeping; and employee information and training. They must be implemented by all employers of workers who may be exposed to construction-related work.

What constitutes an employer is sometimes a gray area but, generally speaking, if an entity exercises care, custody and control over the work site where the lead exposure takes place, that entity is deemed an employer. For example, a lead-abatement contractor hired by a building owner specifically to rid that building of its lead-based paint would usually be deemed the employer rather than the building owner. However, in a situation where a building owner employs a permanent maintenance staff whose duties would regularly expose them to lead, the building owner would probably be deemed an employer.

The key requirements of the new standard are highlighted below.

Assessments. Any employer who has a workplace covered by the new standard must assess whether any employee may be exposed to lead - without using a respirator - at levels exceeding 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over an 8 hour period. Additional assessments may be required if the results exceed 30 micrograms per cubic meter or if there is a change in tasks, equipment or personnel likely to result in exposure to lead.

Compliance Programs. Before the commencement of a job, the employer must prepare a written compliance program, which must be available for inspection and copying at the worksite. The compliance program is meant to be quite comprehensive and must include, for example, a description of all activities in which lead is emitted, a description of the specific means to achieve compliance with the standards, and a detailed schedule for implementation of the program. In addition, the program must provide for frequent and regular inspections of job sites, materials and equipment by a person capable of identifying lead hazards and authorized to take prompt corrective measures.

Respirators and Protective Clothing. The employer, at its expense, must provide respiratory protection to employees, whenever an employee's exposure exceeds 50 micrograms/m3, whenever an employee requests a respirator, and as interim protection for employees performing certain high risk tasks involving lead such as manual sanding, scraping, and demolition. In addition, the employer, at its expense, must provide employees with protective work clothing including coveralls, gloves, hats, shoes or shoe covers, face shields and goggles when exposure exceeds 50 micrograms/m3, when employees are exposed to lead that may cause eye or skin irritation or when high risk tasks are involved.

Medical Services. The employer must make available to employees a variety of medical services and biological monitoring and must provide certain benetits to employees who are removed because of excess lead exposure.

Information and Training. Employers must also provide information on the hazards of lead exposure in accordance with OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard and must provide training to all affected employees on how to minimize exposure risks and use protective measures.

Of course, compliance with these worker protection measures is only one aspect of working with lead. Other issues to be aware of include disposal of lead-contaminated debris, which may be a hazardous waste that requires special handling, and required licensing of lead-abatement workers, which is the subject of numerous legislative proposals at the state and city levels.

Suzette Brooks is an attorney at Berle, Kass & Case in New York City.
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Title Annotation:Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates exposure of construction workers to lead-contaminated materials
Author:Brooks, Suzette
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jul 14, 1993
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