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Painting and decorating services are frequently in demand. Most construction projects require professional finishing and decorating, and painters are always in high demand by residential and commercial clients. Painters work in a variety of environments, applying decorative and protective finishes to a wide range of surfaces, and need to maintain their own safety, as well as the safety of the area and people around them. It is important that they know what safety issues to be aware of and how to observe and promote safety at work.
What is the role of a painter?
Painters play a key role in transforming residential, commercial and industrial projects, or specialising in renovations or maintaining heritage buildings. A painter performs a wide range of functions in the construction and decorative industries to make the appearance of a variety of surfaces more attractive, and to protect the interior and exterior of structures.
Painters are responsible for site preparation, colour matching, surface preparation and preparing and applying paint and other finishes to walls, ceilings, furniture and other surfaces inside and out. Painters might work in a workshop, at a client’s business, on a construction site or at a customer’s home.
Depending on where they work, the role may involve:
- Working with clients to ensure they complete the work according to the requirements.
- Measuring the work area to calculate the time and materials required to complete the project.
- Preparing the surrounding area, including covering fixtures and furniture to prevent mess.
- Preparing painting surfaces, including removing old paint, filling holes and cracks and washing walls.
- Choosing the tools to complete the job.
- Mixing and matching paints and colours to meet the texture and look required for the project.
- Applying paint, varnish and other finishes, hanging wallpapers and other decorative products.
- Cleaning up painting tools and supplies, replacing fixtures and rearranging furniture after completing the project.
- Collaborating with painters and other tradespeople on larger jobs.
- Working with other construction professionals such as carpenters, electricians and plumbers when necessary.
The above list is not exhaustive. Whatever the environment they work in, a painter will be responsible for ensuring the safety of their equipment and resources to protect the safety of themselves and other people.
What are the main health and safety risks painters can encounter?
Painting involves several tasks such as preparation, sanding, filling, painting and spraying that can involve exposure to hazardous substances such as lead, solvents and chemicals, moulds and fungi, construction dust, and asbestos, which can all contribute to health problems.
Lead can be found in construction workplaces. It is commonly used as a specialist material and can be present in older buildings in, for example, paint or pipework. Lead can cause serious health problems such as anaemia or kidney disease and published research has linked exposure to a small number of occupational cancers. If encountering lead, painters should limit the amount of dust or fume they create and consider using one or a combination of chemical paint stripper, wet abrasive paper and scraper, infrared equipment or a hot air gun and scraper to remove it.
Moulds and fungi are usually found growing on wood, drywall (plaster/gypsum), upholstery, fabric, wallpaper, drapery, ceiling tiles and carpeting, and can be most often found in basements, kitchens and bathrooms. The presence of mould does not always mean that health problems will occur. However, for some people the inhalation of the mould, fragments of the mould, or spores can lead to health problems or make certain health conditions worse and can also exacerbate the symptoms of allergies including wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath as well as nasal congestion and eye irritation. People who are immuno-suppressed or recovering from surgery are usually more susceptible to health problems from moulds. When clearing mould and fungi, painters should use, at a minimum, a disposable N-95 respirator as well as gloves and eye protection.
Sanding wood, plaster and other surfaces creates dust, and there are three main types of construction dust that painters may encounter:
- Silica dust – created when working on silica-containing materials such as concrete, mortar and sandstone (also known as respirable crystalline silica or RCS).
- Wood dust – created when working on softwood, hardwood and wood-based products such as MDF and plywood.
- Other general dust – created when working on other materials containing very little or no silica. The most common include gypsum, for example in plasterboard, and limestone, marble and dolomite.
Breathing in any of these can cause lung or nasal cancer, silicosis, serious lung problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma.
Asbestos was especially useful in insulation such as for pipe lagging and boilers, and can commonly be found in any building that was constructed before the year 2000, so painters may encounter asbestos during the course of their work. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), asbestos kills around 5,000 workers each year, which is more than the number of people killed on the road, and around 20 trades workers die each week as a result of past exposure.
When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled, they can cause serious diseases. These diseases will not affect you immediately as they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything.
Many cases of inadvertent, short-term exposure to asbestos will most likely have led to minimal exposure to fibres, with little likelihood of any long-term ill health effects. If you are concerned about possible exposure to asbestos from work activities, you are advised to consult your GP and ask for a note to be made in your personal record about possible exposure, including date(s), duration, type of asbestos and likely exposure levels, if known.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) places duties on employers, the self-employed and people in control of work premises (the responsible person) to report certain serious workplace accidents, occupational diseases and specified dangerous occurrences (near misses). Exposure to asbestos is reportable under RIDDOR when a work activity causes the accidental release or escape of asbestos fibres into the air in a quantity sufficient to cause damage to the health of any person. Such situations are likely to arise when work is carried out without suitable controls, or where those controls fail.
Workers must be able to recognise asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) and know what to do if they come across them in order to protect themselves and others. Training for asbestos awareness is intended to give workers the information they need to avoid work that may disturb asbestos during any normal work which could disturb the fabric of a building, or other item which might contain asbestos. If a worker is planning to carry out work that will definitely disturb ACMs, further specific information, instruction and training will be needed. Asbestos awareness training is a requirement of regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations (2012), and the supporting Approved Code of Practice L143 Managing and Working with Asbestos.
Thousands of chemical compounds are used in paint products as pigments, extenders, binders, solvents and additives. The increasing popularity of water-based paints is largely due to them containing minimal amounts of solvent. Water-based paints are suitable for a large variety of surfaces and, as well as being safer, are kinder to the environment.
Solvents and other chemical products such as paint stripper paint, varnish, thinners and white spirit also present various dangers for painters, and others such as construction workers that they may be working alongside, or any members of the public. These highly flammable substances demand the utmost care and consideration during handling. The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations, 2002 (DSEAR) state the legal requirements for managing the risk of fire, explosion or similar events arising from dangerous substances at the workplace, and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health. Painters should take into consideration the COSHH Manufacturer’s Safety Data Sheets that are available for products used and all products used must be kept securely out of reach of children, especially in residential settings.
Slips, trips and falls are one of the top three causes of non-fatal work injuries involving days away from work. Each year they cause thousands of preventable injuries, and they can cause various injuries such as bruises, sprains, scrapes, broken bones and head traumas. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), several thousand construction workers are injured each year following a trip or slip whilst at work on a building site. Around 1,000 of these injuries involve someone fracturing bones or dislocating joints.
Key aspects of construction slips and trips include:
- Uneven surfaces
- Trailing cables
- Wet or slippery surfaces
- Changes in level
Slips and trips affect the whole workplace, so everyone should work to eliminate them by cleaning up spills or debris, even if they did not cause them. Dispose of all debris safely in a skip, bin or designated areas for waste collection, as the debris may contain nails or other sharp objects. Keep work area floors clean, orderly and dry, and keep surfaces free of hazards such as sharp objects, loose boards, corrosions, leaks, spills, snow and ice. Signpost any slippery areas and make sure footwear with a good grip is worn. We will look at PPE later in this guide.
Painters often have to work at heights. Falling from height can cause serious or even fatal injury. Painters should exercise every precaution when working at height. For painters working on ladders, scaffolding or any other type of access equipment, falls from heights are a risk that needs to be taken into consideration. Using framed scaffolds offer several advantages over using ladders by providing a wider, more stable work platform. Working from scaffolding with a wide work platform is much easier and safer than working from a ladder.
Working at height can also pose risks for others, as a worker falling from a height may injure anyone below when they fall. Avoid working directly underneath someone else, where possible, and ensure that any tools or materials kept at a height are well secured so they can’t fall or cause harm.
When working at height, always change tools in secure areas where there is no risk of allowing tools to fall, and don’t use tools without attaching them to a work belt when working at height. Tools being used at height should regularly be checked for damage and check that there is no damage to lanyards, carabiners, attachment rings or belts.
Manual handling injuries have a major impact on all workplaces and sectors, costing the economy hundreds of millions every year. Manual handling encompasses a wide range of actions including lifting, lowering, pulling, pushing, and carrying awkward and heavy objects; the risks are endless for painters who may experience manual handling injuries such as:
- Back injuries
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as shoulder strain
- Repetitive strain injury (RSI) such as wrist strain
- Soft-tissue injuries to the wrists, arms, shoulders, legs or neck
- Long-term pain in the arms, legs or joints
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) can be caused by a variety of tasks at work, such as forceful or repetitive activity, or by poor posture. The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the forearms, elbows, wrists, hands, shoulders and neck. RSI is usually associated with doing a particular activity repeatedly or for a long period of time. Continuous standing while working is a common source of discomfort and fatigue for painters. Frequent changes in body positions, including alternating between sitting and standing, help to avoid fatigue. Painters should be aware that breaks are important elements of the work. Breaks should be used to relax when muscles are tired, to move around when muscles are stiff, and to walk when work restricts the painter’s ability to change postures or positions.
Electricity and the use of electrical equipment presents a significant risk, so a painter needs to ensure that all tools and equipment that they use in the course of their job are fit for purpose. Ensuring tools are in proper working condition is key to ensuring safety on a job. Inspect all equipment before use and only use if in good working order. Store all equipment in a safe place to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands and doesn’t become a hazard in the workplace.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) place duties on people and companies who own, operate or have control over work equipment. PUWER also places responsibilities on businesses and organisations whose employees use work equipment, whether owned by them or not.
PUWER requires that equipment provided for use at work is:
- Suitable for the intended use.
- Safe for use, maintained in a safe condition and inspected to ensure it is correctly installed and does not subsequently deteriorate.
- Accompanied by suitable health and safety measures, such as protective devices and controls. These will normally include emergency stop devices, adequate means of isolation from sources of energy, clearly visible markings and warning devices.
- Used in accordance with specific requirements.
Generally, any equipment which is used by an employee at work is covered by PUWER, for example hammers, knives, ladders, drilling machines, power presses, circular saws, photocopiers, lifting equipment (including lifts), dumper trucks and motor vehicles. Similarly, workers providing their own equipment will be covered by PUWER and it will need to comply.
All equipment that uses a flexible wire or cable to connect to a power supply qualifies as a portable appliance and needs to be checked. Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure that they are safe to use.
Most electrical equipment safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defects can only be found by testing. A PAT test involves a visual inspection to check the appliance casing and flex for wear or damage. Plugs are also checked for damage, correct wiring and ensuring that the correct fuse rating is used.
After the equipment has passed a visual inspection it will normally undergo a series of electrical tests using a fully calibrated electrical PAT tester. A label will be attached to each appliance indicating the test results, and any item failing the tests will be easily identifiable and should be removed from service until repaired. You should record and retain the results of all PAT testing in an appliance register for future reference.
For painters working outside, weather conditions such as high winds, heavy rain, or hot weather can all present health and safety risks. Painters should assess the weather conditions before undertaking external painting and not undertake the task if conditions are unsuitable.
Too much sunlight, even on cool days, is harmful to the skin. In the short term, even mild reddening of the skin from sun exposure is a sign of damage. Sunburn can blister the skin and make it peel and longer-term problems can arise. Exposure to too much sun speeds up the ageing of the skin, making it leathery, mottled and wrinkled. The most serious effect is an increased chance of developing skin cancer. Painters should use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin and, if possible, wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and the back of the neck. They should also drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Dehydration is an issue for any construction project, so painters should drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and keep from working outside at midday, when it is hottest, if possible. On hot, sunny days, painters should take frequent breaks to prevent overexertion and heat exhaustion.
Many painters are peripatetic, meaning that they are travelling from place to place, in particular working or based in various places throughout their week. It has been estimated that up to a third of all road traffic accidents involve somebody who is at work at the time. Health and safety laws apply to on-the-road work activities the same as to all work activities, and the risks should be effectively managed within a health and safety management system. Risk assessments for any work-related driving activity should follow the same principles as risk assessments for any other work activity.
The work of a painter can often involve working in people’s homes. These jobs come with a unique set of risks that can be difficult to manage, especially when working alone. Working in a new unfamiliar environment can be dangerous, exposing a painter to unknown hazards, such as broken stairs or loose wiring or hazardous materials or working conditions that could put safety at risk. A painter may also encounter dangerous situations such as dogs, verbal abuse or even physical violence from the public, or they may be unable to get help in an emergency.
Develop and follow a plan for working alone in other people’s homes. This could include having a designated contact to call in case of an emergency. Before entering someone’s home, make sure to check in with a supervisor or a designated contact to alert them of your whereabouts. Look for potential hazards, such as loose wires or broken stairs. Make sure to wear the appropriate PPE when working in someone’s home. We will look at PPE later in this guide.
Maintaining a safe work environment is important, particularly in the high-risk work environment faced by painters. It is important that every hazard is met with elimination or, at the minimum, a control measure to mitigate any potential risk.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), the minimum a business must do is:
- Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
- Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
- Take action to eliminate the hazard or, if this isn’t possible, control the risk
Risk assessment requires making a judgement on Risk Severity. Risk Severity = probability of risk materialising x impact of risk on, for example, a person or people, a business, a property etc.
Probability may be understood as:
- Low (Level 1) – a reasonably informed person would think it very unlikely this risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
- Medium (Level 2) – a reasonably informed person would think there is a significant possibility this risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
- High (Level 3) – a reasonably informed person would think there is a very significant or even likely possibility the risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
Impact may be understood as:
- Low (Level 1) – any impact that is minimal, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact is isolated and short-lived.
- Medium (Level 2) – any impact that is significant, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact is limited to one function or group, but there is a material operational impact and the effects may continue.
- High (Level 3) – any impact that is severe, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact impairs a critical function and/or has a systemic impact and the effects may be long-lasting or permanent.
Painters must ensure an assessment has been made of any hazards, which covers:
- What the potential hazard is – the risk assessment should take into consideration, for example, the type of equipment used, the way in which it is used and the environment it is used in
- Who or what could be harmed by the hazard
- How the level of risk has been established
- The precautions taken to eliminate or control that risk
Managing risk is an ongoing process that is triggered when changes affect a painter’s work activities; changes such as, but not limited to:
- Changing work practices, procedures or the work environment
- Purchasing new or used equipment or using new substances
- Workforce changes
- Planning to improve efficiency or reduce costs
- New information about the workplace risks becomes available
Risk assessments should be recorded and records regularly reviewed and updated whenever necessary. Should an accident occur, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will request copies of the risk assessments.
There are a number of laws and regulations that apply to a painter’s health and safety including, but not limited to:
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HASAWA) – this part of legislation is the primary regulations that all businesses must abide by.
This Act sets out the general duties which:
- Employers have towards their employees and the members of the public
- Employees have to one another
- Self-employed have towards themselves and others.
Why is PPE important
Personal protective equipment (PPE) protects workers from hazards such as trips, burns, electrocution and falls. While there is some PPE that is universal to many trades, painters have certain PPE which is specific to their job.
This includes, but is not limited to:
Gloves – always wear gloves to protect the hands. Leather or cloth gloves are sufficient for sanding. Solvent-resistant gloves are required for handling paint thinner and other solvents. Impermeable gloves are best for water and oil-based paint.
Eye protection – use protective eye glasses, eye goggles or a face shield whenever handling paint or paint thinners. It is especially important when painting above the head or spray painting, as well as when sanding. The use of eye protection can stop harmful debris from entering the eyes such as flying cement particles or mortar dust which can cause serious eye injuries or even blindness.
Head protection – painter’s heads are highly vulnerable and very exposed on most job sites; therefore, the head must be protected with a hard hat designed for the role and must be highly resistant to impacts, fire and penetration. It is also important to inspect the safety helmet on a daily basis to ensure that the structure and various components – that is the outer shell, chin strap and visor – are in good condition to ensure adequate head protection.
Face masks and respirators – wear a dust mask or respirator when sanding to prevent potentially inhaling substances, such as silica or mortar dust. Anyone sensitive to chemicals should also wear a respiratory mask when using a brush or roller. Anyone painting outside in an area with lots of birds may need to wear a mask to protect them from the harmful pathogens in bird droppings. When spray painting, use a paint respirator, as this offers more protection for the airways. For proper use and to ensure compliance, be sure to fit test the respirator, undergo formal training, always make sure it is clean and never borrow or use another worker’s respirator.
Overalls and shoe covers – disposable or cotton overalls and disposable shoe covers serve to protect both clothing and any exposed skin that could become irritated by contact with paint.
Safety trainers – these are an alternative to steel toe-cap boots; they offer greater sensations underfoot on ladders and steps.
Fall protection – this is required depending on the project and the structures in place. When carrying out specific jobs where there is a risk of falling from a height, painters might use, for example, a full harness, a retractable type fall arrester, a lanyard with shock absorber, anchor points and/or connectors.
Adequate ventilation – this is always recommended to minimise the build-up of fumes in any workspace when using paint and related products. Windows and doors should be kept open to aerate working areas. This is especially important during large-scale projects.
Sunscreen – painters should use sunscreen with SPF minimum 30 UVA protection or higher, 20 minutes before going outside. It doesn’t matter if they are working in the heat or not, painters still need to wear sunscreen for sun protection; the shade from a hard hat isn’t enough as UV radiation from the sun penetrates clouds and glass.
Mobile phone – lone working painters require a method to maintain contact when working in other people’s homes and whilst on the road.
What training should painters take?
Painters can study for one of the following qualifications:
- Level 2 NVQ Decorative Finishing and Industrial Painting Occupations (Construction).
- Level 2 Apprenticeship Painter and Decorator.
- Level 3 Apprenticeship Crafter Painter and Decorator.
- NVQ Level 3 in Decorative Finishing and Industrial Painting.
When painters are trained to work safely, they should be able to anticipate and avoid injury from job-related hazards. Safety training is essential for all painters appropriate to their role, and training should be directly applicable to the responsibilities and daily practices of the person being trained.
This training for painters might include, but is not limited to:
- Health and Safety for Employees
- Health and Safety for Managers
- Manual Handling
- Workplace First Aid
- Asbestos Awareness
- Lead Awareness
- COSHH Awareness
- Working at height
- Ladder safety
- Slips, Trips and Falls
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- PUWER Awareness
- Assessing Risk
- DSEAR Awareness
- Lone Working
- RIDDOR Awareness
Painters should at a minimum refresh their safety training at least every 2 years and participate in continuing professional development (CPD).
Get started on a course suitable for painters
Asbestos Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)£20 + VAT View course
Ladder safety£20 + VAT View course
PUWER Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Fire Safety Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Health and Safety for Managers£49 + VAT View course
Slips, Trips and Falls£20 + VAT View course
RIDDOR Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Lead Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Working at height£20 + VAT View course
Workplace First Aid£20 + VAT View course
Lone Working£20 + VAT View course
Electrical Safety Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Assessing Risk (Risk Assessment Course)£20 + VAT View course
Health and Safety for Employees£20 + VAT View course