Lead Poisoning Case Investigations - Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I know if I should be testing my employees for lead?
- How do I go about testing my employees for lead?
- How do I get myself tested for lead?
- What should I do if one of my employees has a high blood lead level?
- How can lead affect my health?
1. How do I know if I should be testing my employees for lead?
If your employees may be exposed to a significant amount of lead, you must offer and pay for blood lead level testing and a medical examination. Each employee should be tested before beginning an assignment to do lead work, and on a regular basis after that.
Offering blood lead level testing to your lead-exposed employees is a smart way to find out if your lead safety program is working. Low blood lead levels show that you are protecting your workers and their families, and avoiding potential lost work time and workers’ compensation costs. If a worker’s results are high, they may need a medical exam and more frequent blood lead testing. The Cal/OSHA Lead Standards for General Industry and Construction give more details about the requirements for blood lead testing.
2. How do I go about testing my employees for lead?
- First select a physician who has experience caring for lead-exposed workers and is familiar with the Lead Standards. To find a physician you can ask other business owners for recommendations; look in the Yellow Pages under “Physicians – Occupational Medicine” or “Physicians – Industrial Medicine;” or call one of the University of California Occupational and Environmental Health Clinics.
- Next, identify which workers are exposed to lead.
- Schedule appointments for exposed workers to have blood lead level testing and any other needed medical services.
- Provide the physician with a copy of the OLPPP Medical Guidelines for the Lead-Exposed Worker (PDF), a copy of the Cal/OSHA Lead Standard (General Industry (PDF)or Construction (PDF)), a description of what your workers do, and the type of respirator to be used, if any. If you have results of air monitoring for lead or any prior blood lead level test results, provide these as well.
- Notify employees in writing of their own blood lead level test results within 5 days of receiving them.
3. How do I get myself tested for lead?
If you work with lead, your employer may be required to offer blood lead testing free of charge (See Question 1). However, you may ask your private physician to do a blood lead test. Be sure to ask the doctor to explain what your test result means. If you have further questions, call OLPPP at 510-620-5757 and ask to speak to a medical specialist about your blood lead test result. Since this test is not ordered by your company, it will remain confidential, and your physician should not share it with your employer unless you request it.
4. What should I do if one of my employees has a high blood lead level?
The average blood lead level for a person who is not exposed to lead in the U.S. is now less than 2 micrograms per deciliter (mg/dL). Any level above this indicates that your employee is being exposed to lead. As the blood lead level increases, a greater response is needed.
- 10 mg/dL or greater. OLPPP recommends that you find out why your employee’s blood lead level is above normal, and how it can be reduced.
- 40 mg/dL or greater. Cal/OSHA requires that you arrange for the employee to receive a medical exam right away and get a blood lead test every two months until the level drops below 40 mg/dL on two tests in a row.
- 50 mg/dL or greater. For construction work, Cal/OSHA requires that you remove the employee from lead exposure and send him or her for a medical exam right away. Your employee must get blood lead tests once a month and must stay away from lead work until the blood lead level returns to a safer level and the doctor approves return to work.
- 60 mg/dL or greater (or an average of 50 mg/dL for 6 months). For general industry, Cal/OSHA requires that you remove the employee from lead exposure and send him or her for a medical exam right away. Your employee must get blood lead tests once a month and must stay away from lead work until the blood lead level returns to a safe level and the doctor approves return to work.
5. How can lead affect my health?
Please see our publication, Lead and Your Health.(PDF).
Lead Poisoning Case Investigations main page
Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (OLPPP) home page