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Preventing lead exposure in the workplace

Employers in New Jersey may have heard that the city of Newark has some of the highest levels of lead in its drinking water. Officials are even giving out bottled water to residents. Of course, any level of lead in water is dangerous to one's health, affecting brain development, fertility and the functioning of the heart and kidneys. Employers must be careful, then, that they are not exposing their workers to lead.

OHSA requires employers to give free water to employees both for drinking and for washing one's hands. The water must be potable and adequate for workers' needs. Tap water can meet these requirements if it is potable. Employers can provide water by way of a drinking fountain or a covered container together with disposable paper cups. When potable water is not available, employers must hand out bottled water.

OSHA runs a Chemical Exposure Health Database that includes the industrial hygiene results from some of the site visits the organization has conducted. By accessing this, employers can see what sectors are especially at risk for lead exposure. Lead is frequently used, for instance, in the manufacturing, construction and wholesale-trade sectors. Employers may also learn from the fire in Notre Dame; the cathedral's metal roof released toxic lead into the air, requiring workers to decontaminate schools in the area.

Those who suffer injury due to lead exposure may be able to receive benefits under workers' compensation law so long as the employer has workers' comp insurance. To file a claim, victims do not need to show that anyone was negligent. However, the employer may deny benefits by showing that victims were responsible for their own injuries. For example, a worker may have failed to wear the appropriate PPE when working around lead. For this and other reasons, victims may want legal representation.

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