Caution! Wet paint!

How bad can it be, coming across some newly applied paint? You get some on your jacket sleeve? Or it breaks your arm!! ….and it doesn't always get much better when it has dried.

A repainting job at a Midlands warehousing company ended up costing a lot more than the price of a few cans of paint through not really thinking about what they were doing and how they were doing it.

painted floor surface showing pedestrian routes

The company used painted floor marking to identify pedestrian routes and vehicle access points to their distribution warehouse. On the face of it it's a good thing to do to try to segregate pedestrians from moving vehicles in the workplace. The company arranged for the floor of the goods access point to the warehouse to be repainted but when the work had been done they didn't close the shutter door or barrier the area off until it had dried or even post "Wet paint. Keep off!" signs. The vehicle entrance happened to be right next to the pedestrian access door where staff came into work.

An employee arrived for work and, on finding the normal staff entrance obstructed by a pool of water and carelessly discarded cleaning equipment, had to go in through the adjacent vehicle entrance. She had no way of knowing that the paint on the floor was still wet and, quite unsurprisingly, slipped on it and fell heavily. Not only did she get covered in the wet paint but the fall broke her wrist too.

newly painted vehicle entrance without warning signs - the scene of the accidentThe Local Authority inspector who investigated the incident expressed his disappointment saying that the accident was completely preventable. The carrying out of the work on the goods entrance had not been the subject of any risk assessment – a simple process of thinking the job through along with considering its possible consequences. He said that slip and trip incidents, the biggest single cause of major injuries at work, should receive particular attention yet are still not given the priority they deserve by many employers. The Magistrates Court agreed and ordered the company to pay over £10,000 in fines and prosecution costs for breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and for inadequate risk assessment.

Wet paint? Dry paint?

Clearly a freshly painted floor surface is going to be a hazard to pedestrians – as well as making a real mess of the paint job if people do walk across it, but allowing the floor paint to dry is not the end of the matter. Things are not always as straightforward as they may seem. Even when paint has dried it can often leave a very smooth surface – one with very low 'microroughness'. Smooth floor surfaces may be OK when they are kept thoroughly clean but if they get any dust or moisture on them (such as from water being walked in on people's feet or from vehicle tyres) they can become very slippery, in fact much more slippery than the original surface before it was painted.

Trying to do the right thing by painting out floor markings for walkways, vehicle routes or for organising storage areas can result in very smooth and slippery walking surfaces. This applies just as much to outdoor areas (which will get rained on) as indoors. Choosing and using a floor paint that will have good grip (sufficient microroughness) when it has dried is a wise thing to do if you do need to paint areas of floor. Make sure that any floor paint described and bought as 'slip resistant' will, in fact be slip resistant in the actual conditions it will be used in – if it might get wet then it needs to be slip resistant in the wet, not just in dry conditions. People rarely slip and injure themselves on dry & clean floors!

See HSE's free information sheet Assessing the slip resistance of flooring [PDF 321kb] for more information on the importance of floor surface microroughness in preventing costly slip injuries. Take it into account in your risk assessments.

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