Exposure to hazardous toxins and dangerous machinery is prevalent for workers in the paint and coatings industry. The risks are more common in metal fabrication, sandblasting and coating, and auto body shop businesses. But every organization in the paint industry has unique risks. Here are tips on how to perform hazard assessments and enhance workplace safety.


1. Conduct a Thorough Workplace Hazard Assessment

Paints consist of various materials, including solvents, binders and additives. These chemicals expose paint workers to multiple hazards, especially when compounded by other environmental factors. Your organization should assess the specific risks in your workplace to protect your employees from toxins and fire accidents.

Extended exposure to chemicals may place employees at a higher risk of cancer. Paints may contain carcinogenic compounds like benzene. By determining the degree of exposure in the paint shop, you can substitute or isolate the hazards using various methods.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are manufactured with solvents such as toluene, acetone and formaldehyde. They are highly toxic chemicals that can cause kidney and liver damage. Long-term exposure to VOCs often leads to complications in the central nervous system. Since workers in the paint industry work indoors, there is a greater risk of exposure to toxins.

Your organization should also evaluate fire risks in the workplace. Many chemicals used in the coating industry are also flammable. Any source of ignition can be a hazard for your employees.

Keep in mind that some safety issues can be hard to detect. For example, ergonomic hazards are not immediately apparent since it takes time to notice the strain on your body.

Consult with painting personnel and supervisors to ensure you evaluate all hazards. You should conduct a hazard assessment before implementing any safety measures. Understanding the risk will help you determine the best control measures to eliminate mistakes that can compromise safety.


2. Use Ventilation and Apply Engineering Controls Where Applicable

Ventilation and engineering controls can prevent the accumulation of paint mist from flammable fluids. General ventilation utilizes doors, windows and openings in the building to ensure proper air circulation.

General ventilation is sufficient where flammable fluids are absent, and there is a low risk of hazards. But painters must still wear their PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) gear at all times. You can rearrange your painting operation so that air circulates without obstruction during any paintwork.

Spray booths and enclosed spaces like warehouses should install an exhaust system to reduce the accumulation of flammable gasses. Exhaust ventilation employs engineering controls to dispel the paint mist from the booth. It is a more suitable solution where natural ventilation from windows is absent or where there is a high risk of a fire.


3. Implement OSHA-Compliant Policies and Rules

Your organization must meet OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) standards for workers' safety. OSHA standards are not only crucial for your workplace safety but also to avoid issues that come with non-compliance. Violations can attract severe OSHA penalties that could jeopardize small businesses in the paint and coating industry.

Therefore, your organization should develop strict protocols to govern paintwork activities. Training is a critical part of workers' safety. It ensures paint personnel can use tools correctly and understand safety protocols. For example, spray painting staff should point the paint gun towards the exhaust system's exit. It must always be facing away from other personnel in the vicinity.

Your organization should develop safeguards and closely supervise pressure equipment. Compressed air can blow toxins into the eyes and increase fire hazard risks.

Inadequate maintenance of compressed air equipment can cause failures that pose hazards for employees. For example, painting staff must take caution to prevent paint from drying on the pressure valves. Supervisors on the location should ensure the pressure equipment is thoroughly cleaned to minimize accidents from failing pressure valves.

Besides training, the business should develop policies to protect workers from hazards. Paint booths for spray painting should be separate from the rest of the buildings. The walls should be made of an easy-to-clean, fire-resistant material.

Your organization should ensure fire extinguishers are available near all the painting locations. Any metal or fabric materials in the building must be grounded to ground static electricity. Remove fabrics with paint spills from the site for cleaning or disposal.


4. Choose Appropriate PPE Equipment for Your Staff

As an employer, you are responsible for providing protective equipment for your paint shop staff. PPE may include hard hats, respirators, and painters coveralls. For optimum safety, regulations require organizations to identify the appropriate PPE for their staff.

Your initial hazard assessment will inform your choice of PPE gear and equipment. The assessment report should provide data about biological, chemical, and electrical hazards. Also, conduct a periodic reassessment to identify new PPE requirements in case the conditions change.

Since most painting staff will use several PPE gear and equipment, you should check their compatibility. Fitting gear encourages staff to wear protective clothing more frequently. Ill-fitting paint coveralls do not provide adequate protection for paint personnel.


5. Ensure Proper Storage and Labelling of Paint Containers

You also need to organize and develop rules for the storage of paint containers. Store paint cans in dry, well-ventilated places where the containers will not freeze. Ensure there is no risk of electrical sparking in the vicinity. Tightly sealed cans should be upside down to form a seal that will protect the lid from leakages.

Storage containers should have clear labels for identification. OSHA has stipulated color coding standards for marking physical hazards in the workplace. Paint cans containing flammable fluids with a flashpoint below 80 degrees Fahrenheit should be red. It must also include a yellow band labeled with conspicuous writing to identify its contents.

Paint shop businesses should prepare documentation that identifies hazards in the workplace. Outline the safety labeling program and establish a common system to isolate risks. By developing a uniform standard across the organization, you'll eliminate errors that could cause accidents.

A thorough initial assessment of hazards will determine the efficacy of your safety protocols in the workplace. Always consult employees and supervisors before you implement new safety measures. Feedback from your staff will ensure everyone is on the same page and reduce the risk of accidents.