Paints and coatings can contain a number of different substances. Some of these can harm you by causing a number of short and long-term health problems:
If not properly controlled, solvents within coatings can also create a serious immediate risk to you because they give off vapours. At high amounts, these vapours can cause headaches, drowsiness and even unconsciousness. Breathing this mix of toxic air can make you very ill very quickly. In some conditions, people can die.
Paints / coatings can be made up of many different chemicals. The risks to you will therefore vary. There are a number of things that you should look out for:
If the labelling does not give you enough information, make sure that you get hold of the safety data sheet – see Chemical safety data sheets.
You do not have to worry about paints / coatings where no symbol or warning phrase is used.
Yes. How you apply the paint / coating could be important because it affects how much of it you use over a period of time. You could be at greater risk if you are spraying because it:
Breathing this mix of toxic air can make you very ill very quickly. In some circumstances, death may result. However, using a brush or roller can still produce these risks depending upon the paint / coating and where you are working.
Yes. Where you are working can also have a big impact. There is a big difference between working outside and in a small enclosed space. When painting outside, the constant fresh air is usually enough to stop harmful levels of vapours building up.
The more enclosed a space is, however, the worse the vapour build up is likely to be and the better the controls needed. This is particularly important if you are working with high solvent, toxic and flammable coatings. An enclosure can take many forms. It could be a permanent structure such as a small room in a building, the inside of a tank or within ductwork. However, temporary enclosed spaces can also be created, for example by using sheeting to seal off an area on scaffolding, within a building or around an object
In some situations, you could end up working in a confined space. This is an enclosed area where there could be an immediate risk to your health and safety. This could be because substances, such as solvents, within the coatings could create a fire / explosion risk or cause you to lose consciousness / suffocate. However, you need to be aware that even if the coating(s) you are using are safe, the space where you are working may not be. For example, there could be a dangerous lack of oxygen or build up of fumes.
Confined spaces are highly dangerous and people have died in them. Special measures to protect you are needed and must be used! – for information see Confined spaces.
This will depend very much on the type of paint / coating, how you are applying it and where the work is taking place. However, there are some general things that you can do for all work:
You will not need a mask for most low risk painting jobs involving a brush or roller to apply low VOC paints / coatings. If you are spraying these you may need to wear eye protection and the right mask. In general you should ask your supplier for:
It is also important that these masks fit properly. For more information on masks and correctly fitting them see Respiratory protective equipment at work: A practical guide and the Fit2Fit site.
ALL high-risk work, particularly in confined spaces, requires detailed planning to identify the risks and the control measures needed. If you have any concerns that the steps you are going to take for this work are not good enough you should get expert help before starting.
Further information about the risk to construction workers from painting is available online.