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Lead exposure in the construction industry

On Behalf of | Jun 1, 2023 | Workers' Compensation |

There’s a good reason why lead isn’t used much as a component in everyday objects and structures. The metal is incredibly toxic and can cause a litany of health issues. These issues include nausea, headaches, weakness, muscle pains, loss of appetite, insomnia and more. In higher levels of exposure, lead can affect the brain and central nervous system, causing convulsions, comas or even death.

But while the use of lead has dwindled in recent years, some industries still expose workers to the metal, such as construction. How exposed are construction workers to lead, and can they file workers’ compensation claims for poisoning?

Lead exposure statistics

According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), construction was the sector with the second-highest percentage of high lead exposure (9.88%) in 2021. Manufacturing dominated the list, accounting for 73.64% of high lead exposure cases that year.

Specific subsectors are more at risk of exposure, even within the construction sector. In 2021, painting and wall-covering contractors made up 43.33% of all lead exposure cases in construction. Highway, bridge and street construction workers were next with 26.67%, followed by other construction industries with 20%.

Why are construction workers exposed to lead?

Common construction materials like roofing, plumbing and electrical parts have some lead components. The metal also finds its way in steel structures like bridges, lighthouses, railways and ships. Older paints also use lead, which can be a problem for contractors stripping it off for a newer, safer coat of paint.

There are three main ways construction workers get exposed to lead:

  • Inhalation: Lead fumes and particles don’t have an odor, so workers might not even know they’re inhaling lead. These fumes are produced when the metal is heated, cut, ground or sanded.
  • Swallowing: Lead can also settle on food and drink. Workers not cleaning their hands before eating or drinking could swallow lead dust.
  • Absorption through skin contact: A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that skin can absorb lead. Wounds can directly introduce lead into a worker’s bloodstream, and workers touching their eyes, noses and mouths with unclean hands also risk exposure.

Workers’ compensation for lead poisoning

Lead poisoning from construction work is an occupational disease. This means workers can file a claim for workers’ compensation to seek medical awards for the ailment. However, workers must prove that they were exposed to the metal through their occupation to claim compensation.

Consider consulting an attorney if you need help collecting proof to support your claim. An attorney can help represent you in formal hearings before the state commission, present your case and negotiate the benefits you’re entitled to.