Lead (inorganic; CAS 7439-92-1) is a soft, metallic, blue-grey heavy metal. At work, we find lead as a dust or fumes in an oxide or salt form. All forms of lead can be hazardous to your worker’s health and sometimes also to those around your workplace. 

Lead at work 

Lead and lead compounds are in: 

  • solders 

  • metal alloys 

  • bronzes 

  • construction material 

  • older types of paints – although, you can still find lead in paint or painted products from overseas, and may still be present in some workplaces 

It’s also used as shielding for γ- or X-radiation (from X-rays). 

Health effects from lead 

Lead circulates in the bloodstream and is stored in the teeth and bones. It can build-up in the body from repeated exposure. It causes health conditions such as: 

  • cancer 

  • anaemia 

  • kidney damage 

  • reduced fertility 

  • nerve damage 

  • cardiovascular disease 

  • birth defects and developmental delays in children 

  • behavioural changes like aggression, anxiety and depression. 

Workplace exposure standard for lead 

If lead becomes airborne, as the PCBU, you must make sure a worker is not exposed above the workplace exposure standard (WES).  

The WES for inorganic lead (eight hour time weighted average) is 0.05 mg/m3. 

You must monitor workers’ exposure to airborne lead if: 

  • you’re not sure if you have exceeded the WES, or if you will 

  • you need to work out whether there is a risk to health. 

You must keep air monitoring records for a minimum of 30 years and make them available to the workers.