Following several cases of lead poisoning among building workers in the Centre region (France), the regional office of French Institute for Public Health conducted a retrospective cohort study between May 2008 and December 2009 among the workers involved three renovation projects.
Attack rate for lead contamination (100 mg/L ≤ Pb) and poisoning (Pb ≥ 400 mg/L) were calculated. An questionnaire was designed to investigate risk factors for lead contamination: 1) exposure to lead on site in relation to work location and duration, compliance with protective measures, 2) other exposure to lead, in professional and personal settings 3) knowledge on the risks associated with occupational lead exposureThis survey involved 53 individuals including painters (29%), roofers (21%) and electricians (17%) and others (33%). Only 11% were aware of the lead risk on site and 51% had some knowledge of health hazards related to lead exposure. Of the 44 workers screened for blood lead level, 24 were contaminated, i.e. an attack rate of 54.5%, and 12 were poisoned i.e. an attack rate of 27.2%. Regarding prevention measures, 27% to 50% of the cases wore respiratory protection depending on the type of activity and the protection was adapted in about 25%. The risk of contamination/poisoning was associated with: age (p = 0.003), having worked more than a week on site (RR = 5, p = 0.003) and being directly exposed to lead during their intervention (RR = 12, p < 10-6). All intoxicated workers have been directly exposed to lead. This study shows the importance of the health risks associated with lead contamination for workers in old building renovation projects without adequate protection. Poor knowledge of lead-related risks as well as at-risk behaviours were highlighted. Thus, efforts should be made to increase awareness and implement measures to minimise the risks associated with lead exposure.
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