Exposure to Lead in British Workers

Share this story

Avatar photo
Written by: Alcumus
25th April

Research has shown that exposure to lead particles and fumes can cause severe ill health problems, including kidney damage, anaemia, damage to the nervous system, infertility and published research has linked exposure to a small number of occupational cancers.

Long-term, low-level exposure to lead which may not display any visible clinical symptoms, is now recognised as a major health concern.

The Control of Lead Regulations 2002 explains that lead can be present in two forms: fume, generated at temperatures greater than 500°C, and dust that has been generated, for example from sanding and scraping operations.

Common uses of lead

Lead has been used and is still used in many industries in the UK, some of the ways in which lead has been used include:

  • Car batteries
  • Paint (Domestic & Commercial) Lead pigments were not removed from commonly used paints in the UK until the early 1980’s
  • Anti-corrosive coatings for steel work
  • Water pipes
  • Roofing materials (Roof flashings, roofing sheets etc.)
  • Outer sheathings for power cables
  • Electrical conductors
  • Storage of corrosive liquids
  • Radiation protection
  • Solder for pipe joints (Since the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986, the use of lead-containing solders in potable water systems has effectively been banned nationwide).

The risks from exposure to lead dust and vapours cannot be ignored. There are many trades and occupations in the UK that could, without the correct control measures, inadvertently come into contact with lead containing materials (LCM’s).
Those trades and occupations that could be subject to some form of potential risk include:

  • Painters
  • Joiners
  • Electricians
  • Welders
  • Demolition contractors

Together with a wide range of other general traders who could be subject to exposure whether directly or indirectly.
Exposure risks from lead containing paints, dusts, and fumes can also occur in buildings constructed before 1990, especially during any form of demolition, construction, maintenance or refurbishment works.


The Control of Lead at Work Regulations place a duty on employers to prevent, or where this is not reasonably practicable, to control their employee’s exposure to lead.

What does this mean for your business?

Employers have a duty, so far as reasonably practicable, to protect any person likely to be affected by any work involving the use of lead, or substances or materials containing lead.
Where an employee or other persons are exposed to lead containing materials as a result of their work, the employer must:

  • Access the risks to health and decide whether exposure is significant and what precautions are needed
  • Put in place safe systems of work to prevent or control any risks
  • Provided washing and changing facilities
  • Provided Suitable PPE
  • Provide appropriate information, instruction and training
  • Carry out monitoring surveys
  • Introduce health surveillance

How can Alcumus help?

Many organisations do not have the time or the resources to keep up to date with the current requirements of health and safety legislation in the UK.
Here at Alcumus PSM we can provide expert advice and support to our clients through our team of health and safety consultants. We can also carry out monitoring surveys to look at occupational exposure limits within the workplace to identify if dusts, vapours or other contaminates are present within working environment.
If you have any queries in relation to lead exposure in your workplace, please do not hesitate to contact the Alcumus PSM H&S Consultancy team on [email protected]
Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in human resources (HR) and health and safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Written by Gary Graham, Health and Safety Consultant