Reducing the risks of working with lead

Employers at workplaces where lead processes are carried out are being urged to follow updated guidance as a new lead exposure standard and monitoring requirements come into force tomorrow.
News article published

Thursday 04 Jun 2020

Industries and topics
  • Hazardous substances
  • Lead

To coincide with the updated regulations, WorkSafe is releasing new guidance Lead: A guidebook for workplaces which replaces the former code of practice.

The guidance provides definitions and examples of lead processes and lead-risk work, has information on legal duties for both employers and employees regarding risk and control measures, and outlines obligations in relation to health monitoring of workers.

It also includes tables to help employers monitor the blood lead levels of workers who undertake lead-risk work.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said workplaces using lead processes need to review their procedures and practices to ensure they are complying with the amended regulations.

"Exposure to lead in the workplace is a serious health and safety risk that can cause a range of illnesses including cancer, kidney damage, nerve and brain damage, paralysis, reduced fertility, and birth defects in children," Ms Nielsen said.

"The industry has had time to prepare for these changes, so there will be no excuse for employers who are caught ignoring their legal duties and putting their workers at risk of lead poisoning."

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 impose legal responsibilities on employers and employees in relation to lead exposure in workplaces where lead processes are carried out, and further obligations when lead-risk work is being performed.

This includes notifying WorkSafe that lead-risk work is being undertaken, arranging health monitoring of employees, and removing employees from lead-risk work if their blood lead levels reach certain thresholds.

Lead-risk work is defined as work performed in a lead process that is reasonably likely to cause an employee's blood lead levels to exceed those specified in the regulations.

In June 2018, amendments were made to Part 4.3 of the OHS Regulations which included:

  • Changing the definition of lead-risk work.
  • Lowering the airborne lead exposure standard.
  • Updating requirements for the frequency of biological monitoring.
  • Reducing blood lead level thresholds for removal from, and return to, lead-risk work.

These changes may result in some employers having greater legal obligations due to a scheduled process previously being carried out at their workplace now being defined as lead risk work.

The amended regulations commence on 5 June 2020.

More information