WHS duties

WHS duties to workers who work with lead 

Under WHS laws if you are a PCBU you must: 

  • manage the risks with using, handling, generating and storing hazardous chemicals – such as lead – at your workplace 

  • identify lead processes or ‘lead risk work’ 

  • tell workers about the health risks of working with lead 

  • provide health monitoring to workers if they are exposed to lead through ‘lead risk work’, and 

  • monitor the air in the workplace and ensure you don’t expose a worker above the workplace exposure standard for lead. 

Other important duties include: 

  • providing and maintaining changing rooms, and washing, showering and toilet facilities to minimise lead contamination and exposure, and 

  • giving your workers information about the health risks and toxic effects associated with exposure to lead before they start a lead process. 

Assessing lead processes and lead risk work 

Lead can cause severe health problems. Under the model WHS Regulations, you must assess each lead process at work and determine if it’s ‘lead risk work’. 

A lead process is any work that exposes workers to: 

  • lead particulates, dust or fumes – for example, grinding, sanding or welding 

  • molten alloys containing lead 

  • lead batteries or parts of batteries, and 

  • lead-based spray paint, including any abrasive blasting or water-jet treatment of surfaces coated in lead-based paint. 

The WHS regulator can also make a decision that a process is a lead process. 

‘Lead risk work’ means work carried out in a lead process that is likely to cause the blood lead level of a worker carrying out the work to exceed:  

(a) for a female of reproductive capacity—5μg/dL (0.24μmol/L), or  

(b) in any other case—20μg/dL (0.97μmol/L).  

Confining lead work 

As the PCBU, you must confine lead processes to one area as much as possible and: 

  • keep your lead process area clean 

  • stop people eating or drinking in the process area, and 

  • make sure eating and drinking areas don’t get contaminated. 

PPE for lead 

As the PCBU, you must minimise lead exposure when handling contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE).  

You must train your workers and supervise them to make sure they use PPE appropriately, including removing and disposing of contaminated PPE appropriately. 

Health monitoring for lead 

As the PCBU, you must provide health monitoring for all workers involved in ‘lead risk work’. You are required to provide health monitoring before the worker first starts the ‘lead risk work’ for you, and one month after starting the work.  

If you identify that the work is ‘lead risk work’ after the worker starts the work, you must provide the health  monitoring as soon as you can after you identify the work is ‘lead risk work’, and again one month after that. 

Health monitoring is carried out or supervised by a doctor with experience in health monitoring. As the PCBU, you must provide the doctor with certain information. 

Health monitoring helps identify whether: 

  • control measures are working effectively, or 

  • you need to implement more or different control measures. 

You must not use health monitoring as an alternative to using effective control measures that protect workers from lead exposure. 

You must: 

  • get the health monitoring report and provide a copy to the worker as soon as practicable,  

  • keep a confidential record of the worker’s health monitoring reports for at least 30 years, and 

  • provide a copy of the health monitoring report to the WHS regulator in your jurisdiction, as soon as practicable, where there are adverse findings. 

Further information for monitoring workers’ health for lead is in the: 

When to do biological monitoring for lead 

Biological monitoring is part of the health monitoring process. 

You must organise for biological monitoring to be completed one month before workers start ‘lead risk work’ to measure blood lead levels. 

Biological monitoring must continue at regular intervals. The intervals will be decided by the doctor carrying out your health monitoring based on the worker’s individual characteristics. For example, if your worker is a female and not of reproductive capacity or a male, biological monitoring will be undertaken: 

  • 6 months after the last test if the last result showed a blood lead level of less than 10 µg/dL (0.48 µmol/L). 

  • 3 months after the last test if the last results showed a blood lead level of 10 µg/dL (0.48 µmol/L) or more but less than 20 µg/dL (0.97 µmol/L), or 

  • 6 weeks after the last test if the last results showed a blood lead level of 20 µg/dL (0.97 µmol/L) or more 

For females of reproductive capacity, biological monitoring has a different timeline: 

  • 3 months after the last test if the last result showed a blood lead level of less than 5 µg/dL (0.24 µmol/L). 

  • 6 weeks after the last test if the last results showed a blood lead level of 5 µg/dL (0.24 µmol/L) or more but less than 10 µg/dL (0.48 µmol/L). 

Removing a worker from working with lead 

The doctor you use to carry out your health monitoring will provide you with a recommendation if a worker is to be removed from work. You must remove a worker from ‘lead risk work’ when their blood lead levels exceed: 

  • 30 µg/dL (1.45 µmol/L) for females not of reproductive capacity and males, and 

  • 10 µg/dL (0.48 µmol/L) for females of reproductive capacity, or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

The supervising doctor could also recommend removing a worker from ‘lead risk work’ regardless of the blood lead level.  

If you remove a worker from ‘lead risk work’ because of health monitoring outcomes, you must: 

  • notify your regulator, and 

  • arrange medical examination for the worker within 7 days. 

Returning to work with lead 

The worker may only return to work if the doctor says they are fit to, and the worker’s blood lead level is less than: 

  • 20 µg/dL (0.97 µmol/L) for females not of reproductive capacity and males (down from 40µg/dL (1.93µmol/L)) 

  • 5 µg/dL (0.24 µmol/L) for females of reproductive capacity (down from 10 µg/dL (0.48 µmol/L)).