Exposure to lead is a health hazard that needs to be minimised in the workplace and in the home. The aim is to prevent anyone being affected by lead poisoning.
The dangers come from inhaling lead dust, fume or vapour, or ingesting material containing lead, or absorbing it through the skin (which does not apply to paint products).
There are responsibilities on employers and their representatives, and all employees to minimise risk, as with any other hazard. This will apply to managers, supervisory staff, and safety representatives, as well as those with a specific responsibility to control exposure to lead at work.
Where is lead paint likely to be found?
In the past, lead was used in paint for colour, or durability, or the particular kind of finish that it gave.
‘Post-war’ homes that were built and decorated up until the mid-1960s, and have not been checked for lead paint, have a risk of containing lead. It was phased out from the mid-1960s onwards, however, so its use was less common from then. Historic buildings were still allowed to use lead paint up to the 1980s.
Lead was commonly contained in paint used on skirting boards, doors, door frames, stairs, banisters, window frames and sills, wooden flooring, radiators, and pipes, though it could also have been applied to any other surface at this time, for example plaster walls.
If your paintwork has existed since the 1960s, or earlier, and has been repainted, then it is possible that lead remains in lower layers, but it is likely to be safe if sealed and unbroken.
The UK government publishes a guide to what you should look out for: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-on-lead-paint-in-older-homes
What legislation applies to lead paint?
The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002, also known as the L132 (Third edition).
The Health and Safety Executive sets out the Approved Code of Practice and guidance in relation to this law.
When sampling paint to check for the presence of lead, or when removing it, the guidelines for working with lead must be adhered to. This means carefully controlling the risk of exposure to workers, clients and / or tenants / home owners, and other workers or members of the public.
What to do if you suspect lead paint
The most important thing is not to let the suspect paint become damaged, scratched, or flake off also do not sand or heat strip the paint layers until it has been tested.
If such damage does occur, ensure that no one inhales the resulting dust.
Arrange a survey by a qualified person, and follow their advice.
One option is to paint over it, if its condition is suitable – but this leaves the risk for the future.
The other option of course is to remove the paint. We can’t stress enough how important it is, if doing so, to do it in a way that does not release excess dust, and does not create fumes.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be required, and careful treatment of clothes that are worn during the work, as well as other precautions.
If you work in building or related trades, there is guidance from the Health and Safety Executive here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/cis79.pdf