On June 6, responding to pressure from home builders and other construction industry associations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) called for comments on its lead construction standard.

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LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“Lead is a serious danger in renovation or repair work on bridges or older homes,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “For instance, data indicate that some 32 million American homes have lead-based paint in them. It is common in older commercial buildings as well. Any proposals to change the standard must account for these serious risks.”

The current standard, adopted under Congressional mandate in 1993, requires a program to protect workers from exposure and to ensure medical monitoring for any workers who are exposed on any worksites where lead is present.

According to the OSHA media release, “The construction industry employs millions of workers in jobs where lead exposures are most likely to occur, like paint removal, building and bridge renovation, plumbing and water system repair and replacement. Overexposure to lead can cause serious damage to the body’s blood-forming, nervous, urinary and reproductive systems.”

OSHA is conducting its review under the Regulatory Flexibility Act and Executive Order 12866 “to determine if the standard is needed and if it should be amended.” OSHA claims this is a routine review to make sure the standard is useful and up-to-date, but others see a more serious effort to substantially modify or eliminate it.

OSHA’s acting Director Jonathan L. Snare said, “In this case, the review requests comments as to the necessity for the Agency to modify this standard to make implementation more practical, reduce the regulatory burden on small business and improve its effectiveness, while still protecting worker health.”

For many years, the use of lead in paint and other materials has been banned. Thus, it is not generally a danger in new construction. Old construction is a different story.

LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott Schneider points out, “The figure cited by General President O’Sullivan is about half the number of houses with lead paint in them in 1990, shortly before the standard was adopted. In fifteen years, only about half the problem homes have been addressed. It will be many years before that risk is eliminated.” Schneider, who is working with the building trades to submit comments to OSHA, also stressed the seriousness of the danger in bridge and building renovation work.

Comments must be submitted in triplicate by September 6, 2005, to:

Docket Office
Docket No. H023
Technical Data Center, Room N-2625
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20210

Laborers with lead-related health problems who would like to provide comments to OSHA are encouraged to contact the LHSFNA OSH Division to coordinate efforts. Also, the Division welcomes input from signatory employers and others familiar with lead problems in old construction.

[Steve Clark]