Employers Must Help Protect Workers from Lead Exposure

Employers Must Help Protect Workers from Lead Exposure

Officials in Newark, N.J., are supplying residents with bottled water after discovering high levels of lead in the city's drinking water. Employers should note that they also have a duty to provide safe drinking water to their employees and limit their exposure to lead and other toxins.

We've rounded up the latest news on this topic from SHRM Online and other trusted outlets.

Newark Lead Levels Among Highest in Nation

Experts say there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, because even low levels can cause irreversible health issues with heart and kidney functions, brain development, fertility, high blood pressure and mental functioning. The National Resources Defense Council has sued the city of Newark, claiming that lead levels are among the highest in the nation and "approximately the same" as those in Flint, Mich., prior to when corrective action was taken there. The lawsuit alleges that Newark officials failed to install proper systems to prevent water corrosion on service lines, which allowed lead to seep into drinking water. Environmental specialists say that bottled water will be needed until issues with the city's filter program are fixed.


Notre Dame Fire Exposes Workers to Lead

Lead exposure can also be caused by fire and other disasters. The Notre Dame cathedral fire in Paris in April released toxic lead into the air from the building's metal roof. Workers must don full protective gear as they attempt to decontaminate schools in area to protect children from potential lead poisoning before classes resume in September. Under pressure from labor inspectors, lead removal work was temporarily halted at the cathedral but will soon continue with stricter safety procedures to better protect workers' health and safety.

(Associated Press)

Employers Must Provide Safe Drinking Water

In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide workers with free potable water and to permit them to drink it. Potable water includes tap water if it is safe for drinking. Specifically, OSHA requires employers to:

  • Provide employees with adequate amounts of potable water for drinking and washing hands.
  • Dispense drinking water from a fountain, a covered container with single-use drinking cups or single-use bottles.
  • Prohibit employees from sharing drinking cups and bottles.
  • An employer will need to provide bottled water if potable water is unavailable. 


[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Effective Safety Management Programs]

Look Out for Lead

Lead is most often used in the manufacturing, construction and wholesale-trade sectors. Through OSHA, employers can access the Chemical Exposure Health Database, which includes industrial hygiene sample results taken during site visits. Employers can review these data to learn more about industry sectors where OSHA inspectors have found lead air concentrations.


What's New from OSHA?

Employers may be able to streamline processes, reduce paperwork and save money under a new rule that took effect in July. This was the fourth change to OSHA's Standards Improvement Project since 1995, addressing technological changes that affect the workplace-safety industry.

(SHRM Online)



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