How Do I Protect Myself?

What Is the Best Way to Protect Myself During Lead Paint Removal?

There is no best way to protect yourself during the removal of lead paint. Lead dust is such a serious hazard and so hard to avoid getting onto your hands, clothes and equipment, that many methods must be used together to protect you.

What is the "Hierarchy of Controls?"

This is a fancy way of saying that when there is a risk of exposure to a hazardous substance like lead there is a list of protection strategies that are rated from best to worst.

What Are the Best Strategies for Controlling Hazards?

Substitution: The first strategy of the Hierarchy of Controls is to substitute the dangerous chemical with a safer one. An example is the recent prohibition of lead paint on Massachusetts Highway Department (MHD) bridges. Another example is that paint strippers with the solvent methylene chloride are not allowed to be used in residential lead paint removal in Massachusetts. Studies have shown that methylene chloride probably causes cancer.

Change Process:This means changing the way the work is done so there is less exposure to lead. One example is the use of a needle gun instead of abrasive blasting. Another is the removal of lead paint before welding or cutting a steel beam.

Ventilation:Ventilation is a system of removing the air with lead dust in it. It is broken into two types, general and local.

Local Ventilation involves capturing the lead dust right where it is being created. An example is having the HEPA filter vacuum system attached to an abrasive blasting hose. (A HEPA filter is a special filter that captures the very small particles of lead dust.) By having a vacuum attached, these particles are sucked up and are captured by the HEPA filter before the worker can breathe them in. It also leaves less dust for clean-up.

General Ventilation is based on the idea that if you remove the air with lead dust in it and more fresh air is brought into the area, then you can reduce the concentration of lead particles in the air.

Isolation:Isolation means keeping to a minimum the number of people who may be exposed to a hazard. An example of isolation is sectioning off the work area so that workers doing other work and the community are not exposed to lead dust. This is done by setting up a containment area.

We also isolate the general public from the process by posting signs around the containment. These signs must warn that there is a lead paint removal hazard.

Hygiene and Housekeeping:These strategies are very important, but easy to do everyday. Even if there is a good ventilation system and you use your respirator all the time, it is still very easy to bring the lead dust outside the work area. You may not see the lead dust but it is there! The lead dust can be on your hands or work clothes. You can easily swallow it while eating or drinking, or you can get it in your mouth while smoking. This is why you should never take contaminated clothes or equipment out of the work area. It is also why OSHA requires the contractor to provide showers at construction sites that have lead exposure. You should have disposable clothes so that you do not contaminate your street clothes. It is your responsibility never to smoke, eat or drink in the work area.

Good housekeeping is crucial to keeping the amount of lead dust in the work area to a minimum. The OSHA Lead Standard requires that surfaces be kept as free of lead dust as is feasible. Where possible, a HEPA-equipped vacuum must be used.

Protective Clothing and Equipment:The main problem with this strategy is that it does nothing to remove the hazard. Employers usually like to use this strategy first because it seems cheaper to spend $30-40 on a respirator than thousands on a ventilation system. But this can often be misleading because whenever respirators are used, the employer must have a respirator program. Workers must be trained on how to use the respirators, and cartridges must be supplied. Lead dust and fumes are such a serious hazard in paint removal that both a ventilation system and respirators are usually needed.

Material for this fact sheet was adapted from the "Lead Abatement Manual" of the Massachusetts Respiratory Hospital.
This document was produced with funds provided by the Massachusetts Dept. of Industrial Accidents, Office for Safety.

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