Earlier this month, OSHA cited an indoor shooting range in Pennsylvania for workplace hazards and fined the owners $135,000 dollars. The offenses? Four willful, eight serious, and two other-than-serious violations for exposing workers to lead and excessive noise exposure.
According to a news report, “during a sampling period on Nov. 13, OSHA said safety officers observing and instructing clients in the range area were exposed to continuous noise at 326 percent of the permissible daily noise exposure.”
Noise exposure in a shooting range is not surprising, although 326 percent of the permissible exposure threshold tend to get your attention. But what about lead exposure? OSHA’s testing apparently found that the staff at the range was exposed to 0.69 milligrams of inorganic lead per cubic meter of air, almost 14 times OSHA’s permissible exposure limit of 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter of air. How does that happen? Bullets contain lead.When a bullet hits something harder than it is – a wall or the floor – it splatters. Lead becomes airborne.
Burning gunpowder contacting lead in the bullet also acts as a catalyst to release lead into the air.
This is not the first time OSHA has gotten involved in gun range safety. It cited two other ranges and hit them with big fines in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, the Center for Disease Control issued a report on different studies of lead exposure at ranges. One study cited looked at a major reconstruction of a range involving a hundred construction workers. Nearly half of them had elevated lead levels just from the construction activity. The report estimated that 2,056 shooting range employees or law enforcement officers (who train at ranges) had elevated blood lead levels and that another 2,673 people who do recreational target practice have elevated lead levels. The CDC recommends that ranges switch to lead-free bullets, use wet mops to clean up and improve ventilation. Training employees and users is also critical.
The article doesn’t mention this, but with a million or so law enforcement officers training at ranges, it may only be a matter of time before police departments face class action suits over work-related lead and noise exposure.