Lead risk alert issued
Victorian businesses are being warned of the potentially deadly risks of working with lead.
A WorkSafe Victoria operation recently found unsafe practices at 11 workplaces, with 21 improvement notices issued over processes likely to expose workers to dangerous lead dust or fumes.
WorkSafe Acting Executive Director Health and Safety Adam Watson says it is disappointing to see serious safety issues at so many of the sites visited, including one workplace which had no system for managing risks associated with lead.
“Lead is a potentially deadly poison - if dust or fumes are inhaled or accidentally swallowed it can stay in your body for years, with serious or even fatal consequences,” Mr Watson said.
“Safety must always be the first priority when working with lead and employers have a duty to ensure workers are appropriately trained and provided with safety equipment.”
During visits to 14 workplaces working with lead, WorkSafe inspectors found one had no system for removing lead dust, while another six either failed to provide appropriate ventilation, PPE, or did not give staff appropriate training or information about the use of equipment.
Inspectors also came across cases of workers wearing potentially contaminated clothing into lunch rooms or when travelling home, putting themselves, their colleagues and family members at risk.
When absorbed into the body, high levels of lead can cause headaches, tiredness, irritability, nausea, stomach pains and anaemia. Continued exposure can be fatal or cause serious symptoms, such as kidney damage, nerve and brain damage, paralysis, lead palsy, and damage reproductive health.
Three workplaces were found not providing the required biological monitoring for their employees. This means that workers may unknowingly have unsafe levels of lead in their system and controls may not be reviewed to protect employees in the future.
Other issues inspectors identified included inadequate hand washing and laundry facilities for contaminated clothing, and failing to maintain a hazardous substances register.
WorkSafe's first Lead Compliance Code was released earlier this year and provides practical guidance for controlling risks associated with lead exposure in the workplace, including requirements for lead-risk work and lead processes.