Shipyard Responds to Lead Paint Warnings


Workers at a Canadian shipyard were allegedly exposed to lead paint hazards, according to the government health and safety officers who performed a site visit earlier this year.

Irving Shipbuilding Inc., based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, became the subject of an investigation by the province’s Department of Labour and Advanced Education following an employee complaint, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported Tuesday (July 12).

During a site visit conducted April 8, health and safety inspectors determined that work was being performed on ships containing lead primer by workers who were either untrained or were not following safe work procedures, according to their inspection report.

Although workers were aware of required control measures, they were not aware of the specific hazards of working with lead, the document stated.

Risk of Lead Contamination

For the past 50 years, Irving Shipbuilding has been providing shipbuilding and repair, drill rig construction and conversion, offshore fabrication, industrial manufacturing, engineering, supply chain management and quality and technical services, according to its website.

At the time of the inspection, officials noted that the firm had been contracted by the Royal Canadian Navy to refit specific naval vessels. As some of areas of these ships still had lead primer in certain areas, safe removal was required prior to metal work.

The work in question centered on a red lead paint, once commonly used as a sealer to protect metal, on the HMCS Toronto, on site since summer 2015, according to CBC News.

HMCS Toronot
By Shipguy / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

At the time of the investigation, Irving was performing work on the HMCS Toronto while under contract with the the Royal Canadian Navy to refit certain naval vessels.

Electrician Liz Cummings told the news site she filed the complaint after seeing the red paint during shelving work on the ship.

“We didn't know from one boat to the next whether there was red lead,” she said. “It was confusing."

In a statement to PaintSquare News, Irving Shipbuilding confirmed that an employee contacted the government agency in April based on concerns about a 2014 blood lead test performed by a personal physician.

In response, an officer and industrial hygienist from the agency met with the shipyard’s joint union and management safety committee and the employee to review the employee’s blood test results with input from their physician. All parties confirmed that the employee’s blood lead levels were normal.

Workplace Inspection Report

According to the document, inspectors made the following allegations:

  • Contractors on the ship were removing lead by grinding or burning without adequate capture of lead dust;
  • Contractors left the area without removing contaminated coveralls; and
  • Workers wearing contaminated coveralls exposed other workers on the ship to contaminants as they moved among other work areas and lunchrooms.

While the report showed that lead was detected in workers’ blood, it was considered to be in the normal range. Of specific concern, however, was that female workers allegedly received no warning of reproductive effects or awareness training.

Additionally, lab results for blood lead level testing were not delivered in standard measurement units; guidance units, the officials noted, are reported in μg/100 ml, not μg/l. This error in reporting led workers to believe their blood lead levels were 10 times higher than they were.

“To add to the confusion,” inspectors wrote, “a medical professional also expressed concern until they noted the units were different.”

Blood lead results for the workers provided to the labor department showed levels between 1.8 and 2.5 μg/100 ml (17.7 and 25.2 μg/l), considered normal for people not showing symptoms, the report said.

Warnings Issued, Compliance Ordered

During the visit, inspectors noted the accumulation of red dust, allegedly generated from the lead paint removal; burn marks indicating paint had been burned (which is prohibited, as it increases exposure risk); and paint chips remaining in work areas following removal.

Irving assembly hall

A shipyard spokesperson indicated that it had taken action on all of the items for which inspectors issued warnings and successfully passed an unscheduled inspection June 21.

In response, the shipyard was issued a warning regarding control of dust buildup and requirements regarding clothing contamination and the separation of work and street clothing.

The alleged burning of paint and presence of paint chip debris warranted a warning for the violation of safe work procedures. In this case, the document noted compliance can be demonstrated through adequate supervision of trained, knowledgeable workers during removal.

Inspectors also reported that the shipyard did not have a lead control program in place and was unable to supply a written document during the site visit.

As a result, a separate Compliance Order, issued April 12, requires Irving Shipbuilding to deliver a copy of its lead control program for removal of lead paint on ships; this document is to include a risk assessment for various work processes as well.

Because not all workers, including contractors, were aware of the hazards of working with lead, the company was ordered to provide awareness training on the topic before April 25.

Current Status

"Irving Shipbuilding takes the safety of our workforce very seriously," the company said in its statement. "We work closely with our employees, union representatives and the Department of Labour and Advanced Education to address concerns in a timely manner."

To further allay concerns regarding lead contamination at the shipyard, representatives from Irving and the Department of Labour agreed to update the shipyard’s lead exposure risk assessment, previously completed in 2011, it said. The normal-range results of blood samples taken from 26 employees working around lead paints "[reaffirm] the adequacy of controls in the shipyards lead exposure risk assessment," it added.

The shipyard also undertook several other initiatives since the inspection, including:

  • Putting all employs through lead awareness training;
  • Providing additional detailed lead hazard training to employees involved in paint removal; and
  • Cleaning the area of any accumulated dust or paint chips.

Moreover, the shipbuilder passed a surprise follow-up inspection by a Department of Labour officer and hygienist on June 21, the company noted.

"Irving Shipbuilding continues to work closely with our customers, employees, and union representatives to maintain a safe, clean, respectful, and collaborative working environment," it said.

Cummings, too, told CBC News she was impressed by the efforts staff took to make improvements.

"Mostly everybody's very safe, but if you're not trained or you didn't understand your training—sometimes that's an issue, too—things can get missed," she said.

"Sometimes people are in a rush and sometimes they're being rushed, but by and large, they're better now. They're definitely better now."

Cummings added that her unit has not had any lead-paint safety-related issues in the past two weeks.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Government; Grinders; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Latin America; Lead; Lead paint abatement; North America; Shipyards; Surface preparation; Violations; Worker training

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