NIOSH Evaluates Lead Exposures at Bullet Manufacturer
A NIOSH investigation of a lead bullet manufacturer identified several engineering and administrative controls that would help reduce the blood lead levels of employees working in the facility, according to a recently published health hazard evaluation report. At the time of NIOSH’s visit in October 2017, 11 individuals worked at the company, which operated five days a week for one eight-hour shift per day. Agency investigators found that nine employees, including those working farthest from the bullet casting bay in packaging and shipping, had blood lead levels that were equal to or above NIOSH’s 5 µg/dL reference level for adults. Employees’ blood lead levels ranged from 4 to 35 µg/dL. The bullet manufacturer did not have a written lead monitoring or control program, and NIOSH investigators saw employees who did not consistently wear gloves when handling bullets or potentially contaminated equipment. Employees ate, drank, and smoked without first washing their hands with lead removal soap. Agency staff also observed employees dry sweeping the floor and using a dry cloth to wipe potentially lead-contaminated surfaces. The lack of an employer-provided laundry service, not providing work uniforms and shoes or shoe covers, and not requiring employees to shower before leaving the facility are additional factors that increased the risk of take-home exposure to employees’ household members. To minimize the chance of take-home exposures, NIOSH recommended that the employer provide an on-site laundry, dedicated work clothes, and separate lockers for work clothes and street clothes. NIOSH also found that the local exhaust ventilation system did not effectively capture smoke when the bullet casters were fluxed, which could increase employees’ airborne lead exposures. The agency recommended moving the overhead exhaust hoods closer to the bullet casters to improve ventilation. Other options to improve ventilation included attaching flexible, transparent strip curtains to the exhaust hoods to surround the bullet casters and minimizing floor and pedestal fans in the bullet casting bay. NIOSH’s report provides recommendations for addressing additional health and safety concerns identified by agency staff, including skin burns among casting bay employees and potential noise overexposures. Read the full HHE report (PDF) to view all of NIOSH’s recommendations.
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