OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.

April 25, 1983

Honorable Bill Emerson
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Congressman Emerson:

Thank you for your letter of March 17, 1983, on behalf of Mr. Milton Barlow of Flat River, Missouri. You requested an explanation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations for lead for Mr. Barlow, who is employed by the St. Joe Lead Company.

The OSHA standard for occupational exposure to lead, 29 CFR 1910.1025, sets a permissible limit of 50 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air, averaged over eight hours, for employees' daily exposure to lead. Keeping exposures below this limit is intended to assure that employees will suffer no material impairment to health or bodily functions. The standard requires the employer to carry out a comprehensive program to reduce or maintain worker exposure within this limit.

Such a program for employee protection includes efficient monitoring and control of sources of lead exposure; providing personal protection in the form of respirators and clothing; and provision of hygiene facilities for eating and drinking, and places to change clothing and wash or shower before, during, and after work. The employer must also monitor the employees's health, by providing medical examinations and consultations (counseling), blood lead level testing, and medical removal protection. Medical removal protection is currently implemented when an employee's blood lead level exceeds 60 micrograms per 100 grams of whole blood; this is scheduled to change to 50 micrograms/100 grams after September 1, 1983.

[This document was edited on 8/12/99 to strike information that no longer reflects current OSHA policy.]

When an employee's blood lead level exceeds this trigger level, the employer is required to remove the employee from working in areas of high lead exposure until his or her blood lead concentration returns to an acceptable level. It is within the prerogative of the employer to use such measures as may be deemed necessary to ensure that employees with high blood lead levels do not continue to be exposed to excessive amounts of lead.

Finally, but most importantly, the employer must provide workers with training and education on the hazards of exposure to lead. While the employer must comply with the provision of the lead standard, success in protecting the worker cannot be guaranteed unless the employer enjoys the complete cooperation of alert and informed workers, interested in protecting themselves.

When an employee's blood lead level begins to climb despite the control measures that have been implemented, the employer should carefully examine the protection program to determine if there are any deficiencies in carrying it out, in order to ensure that it is followed by both management and employees. Where corrective measures are needed, the employer should undertake them. Generally, taking care to avoid situations in the workplace that could cause lead to be absorbed by the body should be uppermost in the minds of employers and employees alike.

In his letter, Mr. Barlow alludes to a 8-day suspension resulting from a confrontation he had with his supervisor over his high lead level. Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibits discrimination against employees who make safety and health complaints. It does not appear that Mr. Barlow was engaging in such protected activity; however, we are referring Mr. Barlow's letter to our 11(c) investigative staff for appropriate action in order to make a determination in this regard.

A copy of the lead standard is enclosed. The appendices contain a very readable summary of the standard which should be helpful for employees. If Mr. Barlow has any questions on the lead standard or other OSHA activity, he should feel free to contact the OSHA Area Office nearest him:

Area Director
U.S. Department of Labor - OSHA
4300 Goodfellow Blvd.
Building 105E
St. Louis, Missouri 63120
Telephone: (314) 263-2749

If we can be of any further assistance in this matter, please contact us again.

Sincerely,

Bruce Hillenbrand
Acting Director
Federal Compliance and State Programs