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Contents
Page last reviewed: 11/21/2006
Highlights
  • Lead: Battery Manufacturing. OSHA eTool. Provides an interactive web-based training tool on controlling lead exposures in battery manufacturing.
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Battery Manufacturing

Exposure to lead is the primary health concern in battery manufacturing, and consequently, the focus of this topic page. Any operation in which battery plates, lead scrap, or oxide is handled may be a significant source of lead exposure. Airborne dispersion of lead dust (which settles on equipment, floors and other surfaces) via cross-drafts, pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and dry sweeping, may be an additional source of lead exposure. If the dross that forms on top of lead pots is handled carelessly, lead exposure can result. Lead particles can also become airborne via attachment to acid or water mists. Lead fumes from lead pots, torching, burning, or other operations where a flame contacts lead, or lead is heated above the melting point, may also be sources of lead exposure.

Battery manufacturing plants under federal jurisdiction are required to comply with Federal OSHA occupational safety and health standards for general industry (29 CFR 1910).

OSHA Standards

This section highlights OSHA standards, preambles to final rules (background to final rules), directives (instructions for compliance officers), and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to battery manufacturing.

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Preambles to Final Rules

Directives

Standard Interpretations

Hazards

Inorganic lead dust is the most significant health exposure in battery manufacture. Lead can be absorbed into the body by inhalation and ingestion. Inhalation of airborne lead is generally the most important source of occupational lead absorption. Once in the blood stream, lead is circulated throughout the body and stored in various organs and body tissues (e.g., kidney liver, brain, bone marrow, bones and teeth). Absorption via the gastrointestinal track following ingestion is highly dependent upon the presence of levels of calcium, iron, fats, and proteins.

The effects of lead are the same whether it enters the body through breathing or swallowing. The main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system. Lead exposure may also cause anemia, a low number of red blood cells, which is characterized by weakness, pallor, and fatigue due to a lack of oxygen in the blood. In pregnant women, high levels of exposure to lead may cause miscarriages. High-level exposure in men can damage the organs responsible for sperm production. The following are additional sources of information about the health effects of lead exposure.

Short term (acute) overexposure

Lead adversely affects numerous body systems, and causes forms of health impairment and disease which arise after periods of exposure as short as days or as long as several years. Lead is a potent, systemic poison, which when taken in large doses, can kill a person in a matter of days. A condition affecting the brain called acute encephalopathy may arise which develops quickly to seizures, coma, and eventually death from cardiorespiratory arrest. Short term occupational exposures of this magnitude are highly unusual, but not impossible. Similar forms of encephalopathy may also arise from extended, chronic exposure to low doses of lead. There is no sharp dividing line between rapidly developing acute effects of lead, and chronic effects which take longer to acquire.

Long term (chronic) overexposure

Chronic overexposure to lead may result in severe damage to the blood‑forming, nervous, urinary, and reproductive systems. Some common symptoms of chronic overexposure include loss of appetite, metallic taste in the mouth, anxiety, constipation, nausea, pallor, excessive tiredness, weakness, insomnia, headache, nervous irritability, muscle and joint pain or soreness, fine tremors, numbness, dizziness, hyperactivity and colic. In lead colic there may be severe abdominal pain.

Central Nervous System

Damage to the central nervous system and the brain (encephalopathy) is one of the more severe manifestations of lead poisoning. The most severe, often fatal, form of encephalopathy may be preceded by vomiting, feeling of dullness progressing to drowsiness and stupor, poor memory, restlessness, irritability, tremor, and convulsions. It may arise suddenly with the onset of seizures, followed by coma, and death. Some may experience muscular weakness as well. This weakness may progress to paralysis which is often observed as a characteristic "wrist drop" or "foot drop". It is a manifestation of a disease effecting the nervous system, called peripheral neuropathy.

Urinary System

Chronic overexposure to lead also results in kidney disease with few, if any symptoms appearing until extensive and most likely permanent kidney damage has occurred A progression to kidney dialysis or death is possible.

Reproductive System

Chronic overexposure to lead impairs the reproductive systems of both men and women. Overexposure to lead may result in decreased sex drive, impotence, and sterility in men.

  • Lead. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.

  • 29 CFR 1910.1025, Lead. OSHA Standard.
    • Appendix A, Substance data sheet for occupational exposure to lead.

  • Lead. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health and Safety Topic.

  • Lead. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topic.

  • Health Hazard Evaluations: Occupational Exposure to Lead 1994 to 1999. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2001-113, (2001, March).

  • Health Hazard Evaluation Report, Standard Industries, San Antonio, Texas. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Report No. HETA-94-0268-2618, (1996, December).

  • Lead Poisoning. University of Michigan Health System. Includes a section on "Can lead affect my baby when Im pregnant or breastfeeding?" which provides information on the effects of toxic substances (including lead) on pregnancy.

Additional chemical hazards in battery manufacturing include possible exposure to toxic metals, such as antimony (stibine), arsenic (arsine), cadmium, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, and zinc, and reactive chemicals, such as sulfuric acid, solvents, acids, caustic chemicals, and electrolytes. For additional information, see OSHA's Safety and Health Topics Pages on:

Evaluating Exposure

Standard particulate sampling techniques are used to evaluate lead exposures. Potential for lead ingestion can be indicated by wipe sampling. Employers who are required to perform biological monitoring for blood lead must use an OSHA-approved blood lead laboratory for analysis.

Safety and Health Topics

Blood Lead Laboratories

Video Exposure Monitoring

Controls

Controlling the exposure to lead can be done through engineering controls, administrative actions, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Engineering controls include local exhaust ventilation, total enclosures where feasible, mechanical handling methods, and isolation of the source generating lead. Administrative actions include limiting the worker's exposure time, and requiring workers to shower and change into clean clothes before leaving the worksite. Personal protective equipment may include wearing the proper respiratory protection to keep workers' exposure below the OSHA permissible exposure limit and the use of personal protective clothing. The following references contain information to help reduce lead exposures.

  • Lead: Battery Manufacturing. OSHA eTool. Provides an interactive web-based training tool on the hazards and controls associated with battery manufacturing.

  • Lead. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.

  • Respiratory Protection. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.

  • Hazard Communication. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.

  • Occupational Lead Exposure: A Health Care Provider Alert [75 KB PDF, 4 pages]. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries Report #17-7-2001, (2001, May). Designed to help you work with the Department of Labor and Industries to prevent lead poisoning.

  • Health and Safety Guide for Storage Battery Manufactures. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (1977, July). Describes safe practices and some of the more frequently encountered safety and health violations in battery manufacturing plants.

Additional Information

Training

Other Resources

  • Compliance Assistance/Outreach . OSHA. Provides resources to help prevent occupational injuries and illnesses, comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and learn about OSHA's Cooperative Programs.
  • National Lead Information Center Document Request Form. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Provides access to numerous documents which may be used for training employees and the public in the hazards of lead exposure.

  • Environmental Certification Program for Lead Battery Manufacturing. Occupational Knowledge (OK) International. Encourages cooperation between battery manufacturers and environmental organizations to develop an industry wide performance criteria to reduce lead exposures around battery manufacturing plants.

  • Batteries (Secondary Cells), Lead-Acid. Volume 3, Antibiotics to Batteries; Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology; Kirk-Othmer, Fourth Edition, Jacqueline I. Kroschwitz, Executive Editor; 1992; John Wiley & Sons.

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