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Lead work in Australia is considerably prevalent with the nation being the largest mine producer and exporter of lead in the Western world. Australia is responsible for about 25% of the world’s lead exports. The mining of lead ore is used to facilitate lead compounds, pure metal and alloys for the purpose of creating vehicle batteries, paint pigments and other materials. As lead is a toxic substance, it is important to monitor employee exposure in the workplace. Workplace activities that expose people to lead include:

  • Spray painting with paint containing lead
  • Grinding, cutting, discing or buffing lead
  • Handling components causing lead dust e.g. UV stabilisers and dry lead pigments
  • Manufacturing lead-acid batteries
  • Fire assay
  • Radiation or vehicle exhaust repairs
  • Cutting of lead-painted structural steel
  • Casting of metal alloys
  • Lead-paint removal

What are the health effects of lead absorption?

If your employees are working directly with lead, it is possible for lead poisoning to occur. Lead can enter the body through either inhalation or ingestion during manufacturing or production processes such as those listed above. The inhalation of dust or fumes is one possible exposure point as well as ingestion due to smoking or eating with lead contaminated fingers. Although slight amounts of lead are excreted during urination, the majority is stored in your bones. Lead exposure causes build up of the toxic substance in your body with people often only showing symptoms once a certain threshold has been exceeded. Lead poisoning that is untreated can cause nerve, brain and kidney damage and anaemia. Common symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhoea
  • Limb paralysis
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Severe abdominal pains

If lead poisoning is suspected, it is important to consult a doctor immediately.

How can I ensure exposure to lead is minimised?

There are a variety of ways you can minimise your employees’ exposure to lead during high risk work. While working with lead, all employees should wear protective clothing inclusive of overalls, overshoes, gloves and hat. In addition, a particulate respirator should be used. All personal protective equipment should be removed prior to leaving the lead work area to avoid further lead contamination. All clothing should be laundered industrially and not at the employee’s home.

Any employees that are pregnant or breastfeeding must be removed from the work immediately due to the increased risk that lead poisoning places on the unborn baby or young children.

Furthermore, employers must ensure that all employees undertake regular health monitoring and blood lead testing.

How can KINNECT help?

KINNECT offer health monitoring inclusive of blood lead testing completed in accordance with Safe Work Australia guidelines. Our lead health monitoring medicals are to be conducted before the worker begins lead risk work. If your employees have not undertaken this initial monitoring, it is important that it is conducted as soon as possible. After the initial monitoring has taken place, biological monitoring (blood testing only) must be conducted based on whether the employee is a male/female not of reproductive capacity or a female of reproductive capacity. This differentiation is due to the ability for lead to remain in the system of a worker consequently affecting any potential pregnancies in the future.

Biological monitoring should be conducted as follows:

For females not of reproductive capacity and males

  • Six months after the last biological monitoring if the last result showed a blood lead level of less than 30μg/dL or
  • Three months after the last biological monitoring if the last result showed a blood lead level of 30μg/dL or more but less than 40μg/dL or
  • Six weeks after the last biological monitoring if the last result showed a blood lead level of 40μg/dL

For females of reproductive capacity

  • Three months after the last biological monitoring if the last result showed a blood lead level of less than 10μg/dL or
  • Six weeks after the last biological monitoring if the last result showed a blood lead level of 10μg/dL or more

KINNECT will keep a record of all health monitoring to ensure compliance with the above and will send out reminders when your employee is due for their next biological monitoring medical.

Based on the results of the lead medical, our occupational health doctor may recommend whether counselling on health and personal hygiene is required.

Our occupational health doctor will also notify you whether a worker must be immediately removed from carrying out lead risk work due to elevated blood lead levels. During this circumstance, blood lead tests should be done every three to six weeks until an appropriate fall in blood lead level has occurred.



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