Lead is a poison and potential health hazard which has been linked to a number of illnesses over the years. Lead is a highly toxic metal and a very strong poison. Lead poisoning is a serious and sometimes fatal condition but particularly if this builds up in the body over time. Low levels of exposure to lead can lead to learning disabilities or behavioural problems in children.
Lead paint in good condition is not generally considered to be a health hazard. However if this is chipped, flaking, crushed or otherwise damage then this becomes a hazard. Sanding down surfaces in order to repaint can also release microscopic particles of lead which could be inhaled.
The only way to confirm beyond doubt whether or not the paint contains lead would be to have a small sample taken by specialist laboratory and tested.
In the absence of specialist testing and confirmation it would be prudent to assume that any property built before the 1980 is likely to contain lead based paints.
To reduce the risk of health issues during or after any decoration works various precautions should be taken including undertaking any sanding down or preparatory works in a well ventilated area, wearing a face mask and gloves to prevent inhalation or ingestion of any dust that may be generated, wet sanding surfaces (rather than dry sanding) to limit any dust generation, washing down any surfaces to reduce dust generation and the risk of dust being transferred to other parts of the property, washing your hands and face after the works and thoroughly cleaning any clothes or overalls.