Avoid Costly Lawsuits and Fines with Lead-Safe Work Practices
Many contractors and maintenance workers who have been on the job for years believe they know all about the dangers of and the precautions necessary for working with lead paint. Others think lead paint poisoning simply went away years ago. It didn’t.
Use of lead paint in buildings was banned in 1978 because it was found to damage the health of residents, specifically by causing developmental disabilities and behavioral disorders—even seizures and death—mainly among infants, small children, and the elderly. While the ban prevents fresh coats of lead paint from being applied on the walls of dwellings, old coats of lead paint still exist in many buildings built before 1978. To address that, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule) seeks to minimize the harms that could come when old lead paint on the walls is disturbed during renovation projects.
In earlier decades, the fear of children eating lead paint chips was the main concern when it came to poisoning. But since then, research has shown that the most common way to get lead in the body is from inhaling or ingesting microscopic dust.
Renovation creates this dust. Common renovation activities, like sanding, cutting, and demolition, can create hazardous lead dust and chips. Proper work practices can protect the people in your building, especially children, from this dust. Even for small jobs, the key is to use lead-safe work practices such as containing dust inside the work area, using dust-minimizing work methods, and conducting a careful cleanup. It also means keeping people out of the work area. Most important, it means making sure that anyone who does renovation work at your site is Lead-Safe Certified.
RRP compliance made news recently when the EPA and the Department of Justice announced that Lowe’s Home Centers, the No. 2 U.S. home improvement retail chain, agreed to pay a record $500,000 civil penalty for violating federal rules governing lead paint exposure. According to the EPA, job practice and recordkeeping infractions by contractors that Lowe’s hired for home projects violated the federal RRP rule.
Specifically, the government complaint alleged that Lowe’s failed to provide documentation showing that specific contractors had been certified by the EPA, had been properly trained, had used lead-safe work practices, or had correctly used EPA-approved lead test kits at renovation sites. In addition, EPA’s investigation found that Lowe’s had also failed to ensure that work areas had been properly contained and cleaned during renovations at three homes.
If your site was built before 1978, and you plan on doing repair or renovation work that may disturb lead paint, you need to know how to hire a Lead-Safe Certified contractor, and how to make sure your own maintenance staff is doing the right thing.
Michigan Site’s Consent Agreement and Final Order
To illustrate how the EPA can cite an apartment building owner for violating the RRP, consider the Consent Agreement and Final Order (CAFO) issued in a settlement agreement with a Michigan-based owner for a renovation project conducted in a common area of the owner’s 36-unit building. The building was constructed before 1978. According to the CAFO, the following were the alleged violations of the RRP Rule:
- Failure to Obtain Firm Certification. The EPA alleged that the owner violated the RRP Rule by failing to obtain firm certification from the EPA before performing or offering to perform renovation activities in housing constructed before 1978.
- Failure to Ensure Trained Individuals Performed the Renovation. The EPA claimed that the owner violated the RRP Rule by failing to ensure that all individuals performing renovation activities on behalf of the firm were either trained, certified renovators or had been trained by a certified renovator.
- Failure to Post Signs. The EPA alleged that the owner violated the RRP Rule by failing to post signs clearly defining the work area and warning occupants and other persons not involved in renovation activities to remain outside of the work area before beginning the renovation.
- Failure to Isolate the Work Area. The EPA claimed that the owner violated the RRP Rule by failing to isolate the work area so that no dust or debris left the work area while the renovation was being performed.
- Failure to Close and Cover Windows and Doors. The EPA alleged that the owner violated the RRP Rule by failing to close windows and doors in the work area, cover doors with plastic sheeting or other impermeable material, and cover doors used as an entrance to the work area.
- Failure to Cover the Floor. The EPA alleged that the owner violated the RRP Rule by failing to cover the floor surface in the work area, including installed carpet, with taped-down plastic sheeting or other impermeable material.
- Failure to Contain Waste. The EPA claimed that the owner violated the RRP Rule by failing to contain waste from renovation activities to prevent releases of dust and debris before the waste was removed from the work area.
- Failure to Establish and Maintain Records. The EPA claimed that the owner violated the RRP Rule by failing to establish and maintain records necessary to demonstrate compliance with applicable sections of the RRP Rule.
As a result of the citation and settlement agreement, the apartment company is now an EPA-certified firm, has one or more certified renovators on staff, has changed its work practices to fully comply with all applicable requirements for conducting renovations, and has changed its administrative practices to ensure the development and maintenance of the requisite records required by the RRP Rule.
Does Your Staff Have to Be Lead-Safe Certified?
EPA regulations now mandate that any contractor or maintenance staff member, from plumbers to electricians to painters, who disturbs more than six square feet of lead paint, replaces windows, or does any demolition while working in a pre-1978 apartment building, must be Lead-Safe Certified and trained in lead-safe work practices. If that staff isn’t certified and trained, you could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
Plus, you put the health of yourself, your workers, and your households at risk, which could result in lawsuits. Complying with the regulation will reduce your chances of being involved in potentially expensive lawsuits. These work practices include:
- Containing the work area;
- Avoiding renovation methods that generate large amounts of lead-contaminated dust; and
- Cleaning up thoroughly.
To become certified, individuals must attend a full-day Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule Course. The price for this course is set by private trainers accredited by the EPA. To find an accredited trainer near you, visit www.epa.gov/getleadsafe or call 1-800-424-LEAD. Your company also needs to register with the EPA and pay $300 to receive official certification.
How to Choose the Right Contractor
If your staff isn’t trained in lead-safe practices or you need to hire an outside contractor to complete a job that requires lead-safe training, you need to know how to choose the right contractor. As an owner or manager, it is your responsibility to choose a contractor who is Lead-Safe Certified. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Ask if the contractor is trained to perform lead-safe work practices and ask to see a copy of his EPA training certificate.
- Make sure your contractor can explain clearly the details of the job and how the firm will minimize lead hazards during the work process.
- Ask what lead-safe methods will be used to set up and perform the job at the site.
- Ask for references from at least three recent jobs involving buildings built before 1978, and speak to each personally.
- Always make sure the contract is clear about how the work will be set up, performed, and cleaned.
You can verify that a contractor is certified by checking the EPA website at www.epa.gov/getleadsafe or by calling the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323). You can also ask to see a copy of the contractor’s firm certification.