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PaintSafe: In Association with the British Coatings Federation

What Is It, and How Does It Apply to You?

The British Coatings Federation (BCF), in association with the Painting and Decorating Association (PDA) and the Scottish Decorator’s Federation (SDF), launched a new initiative ‘PaintSafe’ on November 28-29 at the 2017 National Painting and Decorating Show. Its aim is to promote the safe use of paint and related products and provide best practice for decorators and other applicators during preparation, application and drying.

“Whilst we know most decorators are aware of best practice, it never hurts to be reminded of the best and safest ways to work with paints and coatings particularly when sanding and spraying, or dealing with period houses that may have been previously painted with lead based paints in the pre-1960s period,” said BCF’s Chief Executive Tom Bowtell.

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A PaintSafe Overview

Working in collaboration with the major paint manufacturers in the UK, the first phase of the PaintSafe campaign focused on decorative paints was launched at the 2017 National Painting and Decorating Show. A second phase to promote safe use of industrial paints was launched late in 2018.

For more information about any section of this article, please contact a member of our Technical Team on 0113 245 5450.

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PaintSafe Decorative

Whilst most paints available to professionals are non-hazardous, care should still be taken.

Key hazard concerns are:

  • Contact with skin, which could result in dermatitis
  • Contact with the eyes
  • Inhalation of dust or paint fumes
  • Ingestion of paint
  • Flammability of solvent-based paints

When you are painting, do:

  • Read labels and/or safety data sheets (SDS)
  • Check if there is a hazard in the surface to be painted (e.g. lead, asbestos)
  • Prepare substrates prior to painting in accordance with manufacturer recommendations
  • Be aware of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) and carry out a COSHH assessment
  • Store all paints safely and out of reach of children and vulnerable adults
  • Control access to areas being painted, apply wet paint signs  
  • Wear recommended PPE and ensure it fits. Eye, skin and respiratory protection may be required – see label on SDS
  • Keep dust to a minimum
  • Reuse or recycle leftover paint
  • Wipe clean brushes and rollers before washing
  • Thoroughly clean up afterwards using a HEPA vacuum
  • Dispose of waste safely
  • Wash thoroughly before eating, drinking or smoothing and before going home

When you are painting, do not:

  • Eat, drink or smoke when applying paint
  • Breathe in wood or paint dust
  • Use solvents or thinners to wash paint splashes off skin
  • Sand or burn off old paint that may contain lead
  • Dispose of paint or solvents down the drain
  • Leave paint-soaked rags lying around or in pockets as they can be a fire hazard. Instead, lay them out to dry or wash in soapy water
  • Leave lids off containers when not in use
  • Use a standard vacuum cleaner for removing hazardous dusts

Always get medical attention if you feel unwell – have product container to hand

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PaintSafe Industrial

Isocyanates are hazardous substances. Spraying paints containing isocyanates may be a major source of exposure. Spray mists contain air-bourne particles that can be inhaled which can lead to respiratory sensitisation and then to asthma – the major health risk associated with isocyanate exposure.

Once a person is sensitised, they could develop symptoms on exposure to only trace levels. In addition, splashes in the eye may cause severe chemical conjunctivitis and exposure to skin may cause irritation or dermatitis.

Exposure to isocyanates is completely preventable but will require certain actions. Coatings may have other hazards such as flammability or environmental hazards that should be considered.

It is essential to refer to information on the container label and/or safety data sheet before using paint products.

When using Isocyanates, do:

  • Read the safety data sheet and label to determine the hazard
  • Carry out a risk assessment
  • Avoid the use of isocyanate-containing coatings if possible
  • Ensure adequate extraction and filtration by proper design and use of spray rooms, if applied in an installation
  • Check efficiency of any extraction system and know the clearance time for the booth/room
  • Follow correct working practices
  • Use air-fed breathing apparatus when spray applying
  • Keep all bystanders well away from any spraying operation
  • Wear appropriate PPE – RPE, gloves, eye protection, overalls
  • Ensure workers are informed of the hazards of working with isocyanates – that they can cause asthma and dermatitis
  • Ensure all personnel involved in handling isocyanate-containing coatings are trained and fully aware of the risks
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PaintSafe Health and Safety

How to Plan Work to Avoid Risks


The product label and supplier’s safety data sheet should be consulted to see if the product contains isocyanates, 2-pack paints based on isocyanates may be called polyurethanes. Single-pack moisture-curing paints will often contain isocyanates.


Personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protective equipment (RPE) will be needed in all cases. Air-fed breathing apparatus should always be worn when spray applying coatings containing isocyanates. Air-fed visors or half masks are suitable except in very enclosed spaces when a full-face mask should be used. Note that the air feed should be from outside the spray zone. The air should be clean; compressors should meet the quality standards in BS EN 12021. Particular attention should be paid to the face fit (seal) for the wearer of RPE.

Gloves, overalls and eye protection should be worn when handling and applying paints. Keep wearing RPE and PPE until the job, including gun cleaning, is finished.

Maintenance and Housekeeping

All RPE and PPE equipment should be stored adequately and regularly checked. Exhaust ventilation systems should be regularly inspected and maintained. Paint spillages should be contained and collected with non-combustible absorbent materials. All sources of ignition should be excluded from any spill.

  • Assess all risks – check if lead paint is present
  • Avoid excess exposure to solvent fumes – ensure adequate ventilation by opening doors and windows
  • Where ventilation is poor, or in the case of small spillages, you should wear CE-marked respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) with a vapour filter with assigned protection factor (APF) of at least 10
  • If applying paint by spray, RPE with a vapour and particulate filter may be required – see the safety data sheets for details
  • Avoid exposure to sanding dusts – wear a respirator with a particulate filter with and APF of at least 10 (e.g. FFP2 disposable mask or half mask with P2 filter)
  • When dry sanding with hand tools, use on – tool extraction and RPE with APF 20 (FFP3/P3)
  • All RPE should fit well – stop work if uncomfortable – disposable masks should be replaced regularly
  • Some paints contain substances which have potential to cause allergic reactions – read the label
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Exposure and Medical Attention

Pre-1960s paintwork over wood or metal surfaces may contain harmful lead.

  • If the surface is sound, avoid removing this. If you need to sand this down, use wet sanding techniques and wipe down afterwards. Dispose of rags and sandpaper immediately to avoid them drying out
  • Avoid creating dust. If the surface must be removed, use wet removal techniques – paint stripper or, if necessary, wet-sanding techniques
  • Hot-air guns may be used as long as the paint does not become overheated (i.e. if the flakes fall on the element) as lead vapour can be inhaled
  • Do not use a blow torch or dry blast clean
  • Use sheeting to prevent spreading removed paint
  • Do not use a blow torch or dry blast clean
  • Use sheeting to prevent spreading removed paint
  • Clean up well afterwards
  • Use a certified hazardous dust industrial vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter
  • Change out of work overalls to go home
  • If uncertain seek specialist advice before commencing work


Application by spray can be a major cause of inhalation exposure to isocyanates which enter people’s bodies when they breathe in fine paint mist. Spray gun cleaning may also be a source of exposure. Application by brush or roller does not normally generate paint mist containing isocyanates and therefore the risk is negligible.

All spraying produces ‘over-spray’, most of which you cannot see under normal lighting. It is this invisible paint mist that can lead to exposure to other nearby.


The best way of preventing exposure is not to use products containing isocyanates. If they must be used, engineering controls such as local exhaust ventilation and adequate extraction and filtration by proper design and use of spray rooms should be the first consideration in controlling exposure. However, this is not possible in spray application on large structures, on-site applications or when coating marine vessels. In such cases, air-fed breathing apparatus RPE should be worn. In all cases, keep others at least five metres (but preferably ten metres) away.


Employers should be instructed about the risks to health arising from exposure to any hazardous substances and informed of the precautions to be taken. They should be trained in the use and care of PPE.

Health Checks

Employers should provide health surveillance for paint sprayers. Biological monitoring may be required.

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Downloads and Additional Reference Materials

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