July 6, 2017: The ILA and EUROBAT have called on the European Union to decrease the allowable lead levels permitted in blood for workers in the lead industry.
In a letter to Charlotte Grevfors Ernoult, head of unit, health and safety at the European Commission, sent at the end of May, the two organizations expressed their concern over what they called “a lack of progress made by the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits to develop a new lower exposure limit for lead and lead compounds”.
The ILA and EUROBAT have already set a target to reduce the level of lead in any employee’s blood to below 20mcg/dL by 2025 — an ambitious target given the EU’s current lower binding limit is as high as 70mcg/dL.
“It is now commonly agreed that the existing biological limit value for lead is not reflective of the current scientific evidence for health effects in the workplace,” the ILA said on the eve of the ILA’s Pb2017 conference in Berlin at the end of June.
At the conference a special day was devoted to a workshop dealing with blood lead levels.
Speaking to BESB, EUROBAT executive director Rene Schroeder explained what steps were being taken by EUROBAT members to reduce the levels of lead in their employees’ blood.
“EUROBAT and the ILA organize annual workshops and invite managers from our companies to come and listen to what the latest thinking is, what can be done to manage blood lead exposure, and learn about the processes that we’ve got in place,” said Schroeder.
“We have been hearing this is very helpful. Internally, companies have their own training programmes which focus on new employees, and employees with critical blood lead levels.”
“The companies themselves invest in programmes,” said Steve Binks, ILA regulatory affairs director. “And part of the education programmes are things like hygiene in manufacturing areas, the hygiene of workers — automation in the production lines has also had an impact on lowering levels in blood.
“Once the lead dust gets into the environment, then we have to use respiratory equipment so we are controlling the dust at source. In some areas we have positive pressure controls to keep the dust down. Upgrading equipment like masks means it’s more efficient. They’ve also been upgrading changing areas – and there’s a lot more hand washing in cafe and canteen areas. It’s about developing a culture of cleanliness.”
So have the measures had an effect? Schroeder says that regular blood lead data have been collected by the BCI in North America, the ILA and EUROBAT.
“Since 2013 we have had a 65% reduction in the number of employees with blood levels of more than 20mcg/dL,” said Binks.
“The levels we are talking about today are on a par with the average person living in a city during the seventies, when there was lead in petrol. This level would have no impact on health. And with our target of 20mcg/dL, this is lower than any standards of any European country.”