Medical Q&As

Lead - safety at work?

Is there any danger working with sheets of lead that were used as a protective barrier in the X-ray department of a hospital for a long number of years. My work involves melting and recasting the lead.

X-rays do not persist within lead therefore the lead you are working with from the hospital X-ray department does not constitute any greater risk than already exists from simply working with lead. There are very stringent regulations in place regarding workplace exposure to lead and employers are required by law to follow special regulations to protect their workforce. Lead is absorbed into the body through inhalation or swallowing therefore it is important to be protected from inhaling lead dust or fumes and it is also important not to swallow it through lead contaminated food. A lead safety programme should be in place and all workers at risk should be provided with proper safety equipment. The workplace should also be adequately ventilated. It is extremely important that workers wash their hands thoroughly before eating and it is important not to eat, drink or smoke within the work area. A separate facility should be provided where workers can eat and have a drink during breaks in their work schedule. Before you leave your work each day you should change out of your work clothes and shoes and put them in a special bag that is reserved for that purpose only. Those clothes should be washed separately from the rest of the family laundry and itís good practice to rinse through the washing machine on an empty cycle in order to make sure that the next load of washing does not pick up any lead dust from your work clothes. You should wash your face and hands thoroughly before leaving work and if shower facilities are available you should avail of them before leaving for home. If shower facilities are not available it is good practice to make it a regular routine that you have a shower as soon as you get home. Employers also have a responsibility to make provision for regular blood testing of employees in order to monitor the level of lead in their blood. If you wish to learn more about lead exposure in the workplace and the various safety regulations derived from the European Union directives on lead you can learn more by checking on the website of the Health and Safety Authority. You can access the information through the following link: http://www.hsa.ie/osh/expolead.htm#Hygiene.