Introduction Following a significant increase in production at a Lead Nitrate plant in South Africa, the blood lead levels in their employees also increased. This was concerning as the average blood Lead results in 2015 increased to 43 ug/dl, well above the legal South African National limit of <20 ug/dl. This prompted the need to introduce more stringent controls/interventions in order to decrease the average blood Lead levels and avoid adverse health effects to the workers.
Methods The controls/interventions used, comprised the following;
a retrospective analysis of all historical biological monitoring results with direct comparisons to the man–job specifications, as well as the occupational hygiene monitoring results of airborne pollutants;
an intensive Lead study, which included a visit to a nearby Lead refining facility to obtain comparative data;
the demarcation and separation of work zones including changing and dining facilities;
conducting of medical examinations, to include Lead effect monitoring;
a review of personal protective equipment (PPE) and implementation of controls to ensure correct use thereof;
introduction of a comprehensive Lead–health training programme; and
introduction of a three–monthly biological blood Lead monitoring and counselling programme.
Results As a consequence of the above controls/interventions, the average blood Lead level decreased from 43 ug/dl in 2015, to 23 ug/dl for the half year average of 2017, representing a 45% decrease over a period of 18 months. Some employees achieved significant decreases in lead levels, from well above 30 ug/dl to well below 20 ug/dl.
Discussion An increased understanding and awareness of the hazards of Lead, both by the employer and employees, resulted in a significant decrease in the average blood Lead burden of the workforce. The continuous application of control/interventions in the workplace should lead to further decrease in the average blood Lead levels well below the South African legal limit.
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