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QUESTION: Protection of workers melting lead for mass weight. 03 Feb 2004, South Australia

I am a Project Officer and have to research lead safe levels. Officers have to melt small lead pieces to add to a mass weight to ensure the mass can be certified as being the correct weight.

Lead abatement guidelines & standards

Medical Lead testing of blood, hair, nails etc

ANSWER: 03 Feb 2004

Dear Trevor,

Melting lead pieces to add to a mass weight would come under the term "lead process" and as such is controlled in South Australia by Division 4.3 Lead, Part 4 Hazardous Substances of the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations (1995) -  but an employee who became lead poisoned doing this work could make a reasonable case that the Safe Work Australia "National Standard for the Control of Inorganic Lead at Work"  and "National Code of Practice for the Control and Safe Use of Inorganic Lead at Work" - should also be applied even though it has not been adopted in South Australia despite being recommended to the Minister for adoption in 1995 by WorkCover Corporation South Australia.

The Margin Notes on Division 4.3 of the state Regulations state that: "Division 4.3 provides specific requirements for work involving lead and lead compounds. These requirements are in addition to the requirements of Division 4.1 General Hazardous Substances." and: "NOHSC has declared a National Standard for the Control of Inorganic Lead at Work, and the National Code of Practice for the Control and Safe Use of Inorganic Lead at Work."

The best way to measure lead exposure is by blood lead testing and this should be done before a worker begins melting lead pieces and then at a frequency determined by the result. I have attached an article called Early death in adults linked to lead exposure - US study", that was published at page 37 of ACTU Digest of Occupational Health and Safety Information, No. 17 June 2003 which argues that the acceptable blood lead level for a worker ought to be the same as for any other adult Australian. This level is currently set by the National Health and Medical Research Council at 10 micrograms per decilitre (g/dL) although workers at the Zinifex (previously Pasminco) lead smelter at Port Pirie will be permitted to attain a level of 40 g/dL and many other lead workers in the state would be permitted to attain a level of 50 g/dL before being removed from a lead process.

I hope this helps. Please be in touch if you have any further questions.

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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