People have been mining lead for thousands of years, poisoning themselves in the process. Lead poisoning is one of the oldest known occupational hazards, but it was not until the end of the 20th century that we were able to determine how small an amount of lead was required to cause harm. Even in knowing how, no safe threshold for lead exposure has been found.
Lead disturbs many of the body’s normal processes and it is toxic to many organs and tissues. So where lead levels are elevated in the body, it can cause damage to the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, reproductive and nervous systems. Because of its affinity to interfere with the nervous system, lead is particularly poisonous to children, where it can cause behavioural and learning disorders.
The severity of symptoms will vary with exposure but lead poisoning is known to cause abdominal pain, confusion, headache, anaemia, irritability, and in severe cases seizures, coma, and death.
What Causes Lead Poisoning?
There are a variety of ways in which lead can enter the body and cause harm; common routes include contaminated air, water, soil, food, and consumer products. Among adults, Occupational lead exposure is a common cause of lead poisoning and this often occurs where people work in facilities that develop or manufacture lead containing products such as: radiation shields, ammunition, surgical equipment, foetal monitors, plumbing, circuit boards, jet engines, and ceramic glazes.
Other professions that are at risk of lead poisoning include:
- Lead miners and smelters
- Plumbers and fitters
- Auto mechanics
- Glass manufacturers
- Construction workers
- Battery manufacturers and recyclers
- Firing range instructors
- Plastic manufacturers
Anyone whose occupation involves welding, rubber manufacture, printing, zinc or copper smelting, ore processing , solid waste combustion, and the production of paints and pigments; are also at risk. Parents who are exposed to lead in the workplace can bring lead dust home on clothes of skin and expose their children.
Symptoms of Lead Poisoning
Symptoms caused by lead poisoning can vary and their severity will depend upon the level and length of exposure. Some symptoms are non-specific and subtle, so some people who have fallen victim to elevated lead levels won’t notice any immediate change, as symptoms often develop over weeks or months as lead builds up in the body.
The main adult symptoms are; abdominal pain, memory loss, kidney failure, male reproductive problems, and weakness, pain, or tingling in the extremities. Early symptoms of lead poisoning can include depression, loss of appetite, intermittent abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, and muscle pain, malaise, fatigue, decreased libido, and problems with sleep. Some less common early symptoms can include an unusual taste in the mouth and personality changes.
Where lead exposure has resulted from contact with organic lead, symptoms occur much more rapidly because of its increased lipid solubility; this will often present with symptoms in the central nervous system such as insomnia, delirium, cognitive deficits, tremor, hallucinations, and convulsions.
In adults, symptoms can occur at levels above 40 µg/dL, but are more likely to occur above 50–60 µg/dL.
For anyone that has suffered from acute or chronic lead poisoning, it can be frustrating and difficult, particularly when the cause is unknown to you. In severe cases of acute lead poisoning, it can be fatal. So if you feel that you might be affected by lead poisoning after seeing the symptoms, you should speak to a GP immediately and begin making a claim for lead poisoning compensation.
Occupational Lead Poisoning Diagnosis
Where elevated levels of blood are in the body, they can be detected by changes in blood cells visible with a microscope. Although the most commonly used, primary tool for lead poisoning diagnosis is the measurement of lead levels in the urine or blood; although these only serve to determine how much lead is circulating within the body, not how much has been stored.
Diagnosing occupational lead poisoning can be difficult. The diagnostic methods are straightforward, but chronic lead poisoning presents with non-specific symptoms found in other industrial diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome, Guillain-Barré syndrome, renal colic, appendicitis and encephalitis. So it may not be suspected straight away. For this reason, it is important that you describe your working environment and role thoroughly. If your GP suspects lead poisoning, they will examine a number of areas.
These can include:
- Discussing medical and work history, exploring your role and the equipment provided
- Any recent symptoms, or changes in behaviour over time
- Possible routes of exposure
- Laboratory analysis of the blood lead level
- Where lead poisoning is diagnosed, you will need determine the cause. If exposure occurs at work, then steps need to be taken to prevent further exposure
Occupational Lead Poisoning Treatment
The major treatment for lead poisoning is removal of the victim from the source. Where lead levels are particularly high, victims will undergo chelation therapy, where medical agents are used to bind with lead so that it can be excreted. Due to the affect lead can have on the body, victims may also be treated for iron, calcium, and zinc deficiencies.
Prevention to further exposure is also a key part of treatment. Understanding the sources of exposure can help you to avoid future incidents of lead poisoning. Where lead poisoning is caused at work, preventative measures should be instated to prevent other staff from being exposed. There should already be protective methods in force, but where an employer fails in their duty to protect staff, further protective measures will be required.
Occupational Lead Poisoning Compensation Claims
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, require employers to prevent or to control exposures to hazardous substances for the protection of employees’ health. Employers are also bound to a variety of other legislative pieces that clearly define their legal duty of care to their employees, such as the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Generally speaking, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure a safe working environment for staff. Where this is not possible, Personal Protective Equipment and training must be issued to reduce these risks as much as is practically possible. Where such care is not provided, the employer is being negligent in their duties.
In their negligence, employees are at risk of contracting lead poisoning which can have disastrous, long term affects upon their health and well-being. If you happen to become a victim of occupational lead poisoning through an employer’s negligence, they are liable to pay compensation to make amends.
Occupational lead poisoning can be incredibly frustrating, as you may suffer from a variety of symptoms without being properly diagnosed as the symptoms are non-specific. If you work with lead, there is also a possibility that you could take it home on your clothes and expose your family. Not only can lead poisoning have negative consequences for your job performance, but it can also reduce the quality of your everyday life. Many symptoms of lead poisoning are reversible, but where your nervous system has been affected the damage is irreparable.
In 2010, the Health and Safety Executive published a press release outlining a case wherein workers fell victim to lead poisoning. During the course of a renovation, old lead-based paintwork was sanded down and removed. Workers unknowingly inhaled this substance due to a lack of protective equipment. They later fell ill after months of chronic exposure. Blairish Restorations Limited pled guilty to the offence under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £10,000.
So if you think you have been affected by lead poisoning you should speak with a specialist occupational illness solicitor so that they can begin compiling your case. If you instruct Asons solicitors to handle your occupational lead poisoning claim, we will collate all of the required evidence and medical proof to substantiate your claim whilst providing expert support and advice throughout the process; saving you from all the hard work.
We’ve dealt with a variety of occupational lead poisoning claims in the past and so we understand how difficult it can be for sufferers to take this important and decisive step.
I Think I May be Affected, What Should I Do?
If you have contracted occupational lead poisoning as a result of working with your current employer, you should contact us. We can refer you to a specialist who can diagnose you and document the extent of your injury for our records. You should then speak to your employer to ensure that your role has been made safe enough for you to continue working. A review of your role and workspace should be completed to identify any issues or problem areas so that new equipment can be offered to prevent further exposure that may trigger acute symptoms or chronic exposure.
Some occupations and roles are at greater risk than other, these include:
- Lead smelting, alloying and casting
- Lead-acid battery manufacture and breaking
- Manufacturing lead compounds
- Working with metallic lead and alloys containing lead
- Manufacturing leaded-glass
- Painting of buildings; some spray-painting of vehicles
- Hot cutting in demolition and dismantling operations recovering lead from scrap and waste
- Manufacturing pigments and colours
- Manufacturing and using ceramic glazes and colours
- Manufacturing ceramic transfers
- Jewellery and badge enamelling
So if you present with the previously described symptoms, particularly at work, and you are employed in a profession relating to those above, you may well suffer from occupational lead poisoning.
Where else can I find help and advice?
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provides plenty of helpful information for both employers and victims of lead poisoning. It provides brochures and printed material for use in the work place as well as guides and checklists for ensuring employee safety.
We pride ourselves on our provision of first-class legal advice and support. Our team of specialist accident at work solicitors have a wealth of expertise, and knowledge, that you will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. For free, expert advice on pursuing an accident at work claim, speak to us today.