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Page last reviewed: 03/28/2012
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  • Lead - Secondary Lead Smelter. OSHA eTool. Describes ways to reduce lead exposure to employees in lead smelter plants, specifically in the following operations: raw materials processing, smelting, refining and casting, environmental controls, and maintenance.
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Lead overexposure is one of the most common overexposures found in industry and is a leading cause of workplace illness. Therefore, OSHA has established the reduction of lead exposure to be a high strategic priority. OSHA's five year strategic plan sets a performance goal of a 15% reduction in the average severity of lead exposure or employee blood lead levels in selected industries and workplaces.

It is also a major potential public health risk. In general populations, lead may be present in hazardous concentrations in food, water, and air. Sources include paint, urban dust, and folk remedies. Lead poisoning is the leading environmentally induced illness in children. At greatest risk are children under the age of six because they are undergoing rapid neurological and physical development.

OSHA Standards

Lead hazards are addressed in specific standards for general industry, shipyard employment and the construction industry. This section highlights OSHA standards, effective dates for enforcement of the lead standard, preambles to final rules (background to final rules), Federal Registers (rules, proposed rules, and notices), directives (instructions for compliance officers), and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to lead in the general industry and shipyard employment. 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)

Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915)

Effective Dates for Enforcement of the Lead Standard

  • May 7, 1997 - The stay on 29 CFR 1910.1025(e)(1) was lifted, and six years later (May 2003) all employers had to be in compliance with all the requirements of the standard.

  • June 29, 1981 - The Supreme Court denied the petition and dissolved its 1980 stay, leaving the partial stay 29 CFR 1910.1025(e)(1) used by the Appeals Court on August 15. This meant that all the other provisions of this standard had been in effect.

  • August 15, 1980 - The Court of Appeals issued its decision upholding the standard, lifting the stay except for 29 CFR 1910.1025(e)(1) as it applied to certain industries.

  • December 8, 1980 - Pending the filing and disposition of industry's petitions for a review, the US Supreme Court issued a stay of the same provisions that were issued in March 1979 by the US Court of Appeals.

  • March 1, 1979 - The Court of Appeals stayed a number of the provisions including the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.1025(i) for the consideration of new facilities and renovation of existing facilities, pending a full review.

  • November 14, 1978 - The standard was promulgated and immediately challenged by both industry and labor. All changes were consolidated in the US Court of Appeals.

Preambles to Final Rules

Federal Registers


Standard Interpretations


For information related to construction, see OSHA's Lead - Construction.

Health Effects

Lead adversely affects numerous body systems and causes forms of health impairment and disease that arise after periods of exposure as short as days (acute exposure) or as long as several years (chronic exposure). The frequency and severity of medical symptoms increases with the concentration of lead in the blood. Common symptoms of acute lead poisoning are loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, constipation, difficulty in sleeping, fatigue, moodiness, headache, joint or muscle aches, anemia, and decreased sexual drive. Acute health poisoning from uncontrolled occupational exposures has resulted in fatalities. Long term (chronic) overexposure to lead may result in severe damage to the blood-forming, nervous, urinary, and reproductive systems. The following references provide  information on the health effects of lead.

  • Lead compounds (as Pb). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (1994, May). Provides an Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) document that includes acute toxicity data for lead compounds.

  • TOXNET for Lead, elemental. The National Library of Medicine.
  • Report on Carcinogens (RoC). US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Toxicology Program (NTP). Identifies and discusses agents, substances, mixtures, or exposure circumstances that may pose a hazard to human health by virtue of their carcinogenicity. The listing of substances in the RoC only indicates a potential hazard and does not establish the exposure conditions that would pose cancer risks to individuals.
    • Lead and Lead Compounds [195 KB PDF, 5 pages]. NTP classification: Reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks for Humans [797 KB PDF, 4 pages]. World Health Organization (WHO). IARC Classification: Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans (Group 3).

  • Toxicological Profile for Lead. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), (2007, August). Includes links to information on health effects, chemical and physical information, potential for human exposure, and more.

  • ToxFAQs™ for Lead. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), (2007, August). Answers the most frequently asked health questions about lead.

  • Case Studies in Environmental Medicine (CSEM): Lead Toxicity. Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR), (2007, August 20).

  • Lead. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Provides information on environmental lead poisoning and prevention for health professionals and the public at large.
  • Lead and compounds (inorganic) (CASRN 7439-92-1). Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Contains chemical health risk assessments and regulatory information.

  • Lead Compounds. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Lists lead compounds as a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) under the National Emissions Standard Hazardous Air Pollutants section of its Clean Air Act.

  • Lead [624 KB PDF, 6 pages]. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, (Revised September 2007). Provides a summary source of information of all potential and most severe health hazards that may result from lead exposure.

  • International Chemical Safety Cards: Lead. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (2002, August 10). Summarizes essential health and safety information on lead.

Exposure Evaluation

Standard particulate sampling techniques are used to evaluate lead exposures. Potential for lead ingestion can be indicated by wipe sampling. The following links provide information regarding methods and means used to evaluate lead hazards.

Analytical Methods


OSHA has developed and validated methods for use by the Salt Lake Technical Center (SLTC) laboratory. The following method has been adopted by many laboratories for the analysis of chemical compounds. Exposures should be evaluated with standard total dust sampling techniques for comparison to the OSHA permissible exposure limits (PEL).

For additional information, see OSHA's Sampling and Analysis Safety and Health Topics Page.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Lead in Housing (including remediation)

Possible Solutions

The most effective way to protect workers is to minimize their exposure through engineering controls, good work practices and training, and the use of personal protective clothing and equipment, including respirators, where required. Engineering controls include material substitution, isolation, process/equipment modification and local ventilation. Some fundamental and easily implemented work practices are good housekeeping, appropriate personal hygiene practices, periodic inspection and maintenance of process and control equipment, proper procedures to perform a task, and appropriate supervision to ensure that the proper procedures are followed. The following references provide possible solutions in controlling and preventing lead hazards in the workplace.

  • 29 CFR 1910.1025, Lead. OSHA Standard.
    • Appendix C, Medical surveillance guidelines. Contains a detailed description of medical effects.
  • Protecting Workers from Lead Hazards [21 KB PDF*, 2 pages]. OSHA Fact Sheet, (2005, September).

  • NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-149, (2007, September). Provides a physical description, exposure limits, measurement method, personal protection and sanitation, first aid, respirator recommendations, exposure routes, symptoms, target organs, and cancer sites.
  • Occupational Health Guidelines for Chemical Hazards. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 81-123, (1981, January). Contains information on identification, physical and chemical properties, health hazards, exposure limits, exposure sources and control methods, monitoring, personal hygiene, storage, spills and leaks, and personal protective equipment.

  • Protecting Workers Exposed to Lead-Based Paint Hazards: A Report to Congress. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-112, (1997, January). Provides extensive information on lead, including health effects, exposure criteria, sampling and analysis, control methods, and other NIOSH recommendations.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Other Resources

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