Saf Health Work.  2011 Jun;2(2):87-96.

Occupational Health Management in the Lead Industry: The Korean Experience

Affiliations
  • 1Institute of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, Soonchunhyang University, Asan, Korea. bklee@sch.ac.kr

Abstract

In 1967, the problem of occupational lead exposure came to public attention in Korea. Since then, regular progress has been made in lowering workplace lead exposures, instituting new workplace controls, and implementing health examinations of exposed workers. Past serious lead poisoning episodes made it possible to introduce biological monitoring programs on a voluntary basis in high-lead-exposure facilities in Korea. Industry-specific occupational health services for lead workers in Korea during the last 22 years can be categorized into three phases. During the first phase (1988-1993), efforts were directed at increasing awareness among workers about the hazards of lead exposure, biological monitoring of blood zinc protoporphyrin began, and a respiratory protection program was introduced. During the second phase (1994-1997), a computerized health management system for lead workers was developed, blood-lead measurement was added to biologic monitoring, and engineering controls were introduced in the workplace to lower air-lead levels to comply with air-lead regulations. Finally, during the third phase (1998-present), a new biomarker, bone-lead measurement by X-ray fluorescence, was introduced. Bone-lead measurement proved to be useful for assessing body burden and to demonstrate past lead exposure in retired workers. Occupational health service practice for lead workers, including the industry-specific group occupational health system, has brought considerable success in the prevention of lead poisoning and in reducing the lead burden in Korean lead workers during the last several decades. The successful achievement of prevention of lead poisoning in Korea was a result of the combined efforts of lead workers, employers, relevant government agencies, and academic institutes.

Keyword

Blood zinc protoporphyrin; Blood lead; Bone lead; Maintenance free respirator; Industry specific group occupational health service
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