Think of the most dangerous professions and “commercial painter” probably isn’t anywhere near the top of the list. But there’s a bucketful of hazards that professional painters face every day – from the possibility of electrocution to accidentally injecting high-pressure paints into their skin. Without taking precautions, you may be exposing yourself and others to some heavy-duty hazards.
Slips, Trips and Falls
Almost everyone has experienced that heart-pounding feeling of being high up on a ladder and feeling it start to slide. Those who paint for a living also face the possibility of falling through unguarded floor openings, skylights or from rooftops. It’s also possible to slip or trip over equipment. OSHA says guardrails or other appropriate fall protection must be used when working on scaffolds five feet or more above surfaces.
Repetitive motions and awkward positions cause neck and shoulder pain, back pain, knee pain and hand pain. It’s important to use ladders and extension devices to reduce reaching and awkward motions. Don’t hold the paint can in your hand.
Residential and commercial painters may become exposed to lead while preparing building exteriors for repainting. Scraping, sanding, grinding and burning to remove peeling or flaking paint can expose painters to significant amounts of airborne lead dust. Painters who do not use adequate respirators and PPE may develop lead poisoning. Power sanders that vacuum and store dust as it is generated are recommended for removing old paint.
Exposure to Toxic and Flammable Materials
Hydrocarbon solvents, such as Toluene and Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK), epoxy resins and anti-fouling paints may be released into the air, where they can pose not only explosion and fire hazards, but also health hazards through inhalation and skin absorption. Hot work performed in the vicinity of painting can trigger an explosion or fire, as can smoking a cigarette or generating a spark through static electricity or tool operation. Toxic vapors and mists from paints and solvents present significant health risks. Appropriate respirators must be used to prevent such exposures. Protective clothing also must be worn to prevent chemical absorption through the skin. If you don’t know how to protect yourself, ask your supervisor.
Working near energized electrical wires is always hazardous. Many painters have been electrocuted after touching power lines with metal ladders. Electrical tools such as grinders and sanders must be visually inspected before use and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) should be used to prevent electrical shock.
Contact with high-pressure painting equipment, air leakage from such equipment or uncontrolled highpressure hoses can cause serious, even fatal injuries. Such equipment must be inspected before use and maintained to prevent worker injuries.
Temperature , humidity, wind, PPE and work activity can cause temperature-related illnesses ranging from hypothermia to heat stroke . Workers need to stay hydrated and take breaks to cool down or warm up.
Don’t tackle a painting project that’s over your head in terms of unforeseen danger. Find the hazards and assess how you’ll handle them before the hazards find you. Don’t wait for wasps to start stinging you when you are 20 feet (six meters) up a ladder to realize you should have checked for a nest.