Painter Safety and Health Issues

Painters are an integral part of the construction industry. Working in this industry can be both satisfying and rewarding, however, you may be exposed to certain risks if safe methods of work are not followed. Almost all professions involve occupational hazards but this does not mean that these risks cannot be reduced or eliminated. As a painter, it is your and the employer’s responsibility to ensure that adequate safety levels are maintained at all times.

At Ecopainting, safety comes first, always. We are aware there are a number of safety issues that all our painters need to be aware of. For instance, there are some projects that require working on lifts or heights. Any painter using the lift needs to be certified and must use the harnesses to prevent accidents. While this is an apparent risk, there are some jobs that have hidden safety hazards that need to be addressed as well.

A career in construction and painting is a viable alternative for young men and women today. By being aware of safety hazards painters can have a long and healthy employment.

Considering a career in painting? Why not consider Ecopainting – apply now for a painting job.

Some Common Health Hazards in the Painting Industry

Lead-based paint: Lead is a dangerous substance. If swallowed or inhaled, lead can have some very serious health implications. Although its use has been greatly reduced, there are still instances when exposure to lead has caused people to fall ill and in worst cases, die.

Lead is no longer used in today’s paints but it may be present in properties constructed before the 1970s. Take due care if painting in a building or home built in that period. More so when there are surfaces that are flaking, chipping or damaged in any way.

  • When a surface is in a good state and has already been protected against lead, it is advisable to leave it undisturbed.
  • If you are working on the exterior of an old home and the paint is peeling and flaking, do NOT sand, brush or scrape it. Pick up a lead testing kit to check for presence of lead. Lead testing kits are reliable and inexpensive. You can buy them in some home improvement stores and paint stores. If the paint store does not carry them they can special order them for you.
  • In order to be absolutely certain about a surface containing lead-based paint, trust the experts! The old paint chip can be sent to be tested in a special lab. Better to be safe than sorry!

Dermatitis: Inhalation and ingestion of certain chemicals can cause health problems. The painting industry may expose workers to skin conditions such as dermatitis and work-induced skin irritations. Painters are generally exposed to chemicals and skin damage more than other trades. The common substances that cause painters to contract dermatitis include paints, solvents, chemical cleaners and strippers, epoxies and other resins.

If you have an existing medical condition that may be aggravated by any of the above materials, be sure to check with a medical practitioner and your employer before starting a job. Ecopainting only uses paints with the lowest VOCs that are deemed safe for most individuals and the environment. We make sure all our painters are informed about and protected against any risks that may occur at the job site.

Asbestos: One substance that we need to be cautious about is asbestos. Breathing asbestos dust can cause serious damage to the lungs and lead to cancer. There aren’t very many cures for asbestos related diseases.

The buildings constructed or refurbished prior to 1980s contain asbestos. According to, “Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was a popular building material from the 1950s to 1990s. It was used extensively because it is an insulator, has good fire protection properties, has tensile strength, and is resistant to chemical erosion.” The website goes on to explain how if someone is exposed to asbestos it can cause serious chronic health problems.    

Any materials containing asbestos should be properly insulated or removed before a painting job commences to prevent accidental exposure to asbestos. Only trained and licensed contractors should remove asbestos coatings, insulation boards or insulation.

When we work in older buildings if we suspect that they may have asbestos, we inform the customer and ask them to perform the appropriate tests. Should they find asbestos, they need to get it removed before we can work.

Lift weight safely with your legs

Lifting:  When a job starts, a lot of supplies need to be brought in. Be it the tools, the paints, drop cloths or ladders. When bigger jobs require large amounts of paint, the common practice is to get the paint in in five gallon pails. Paint pails, storage bins with drop cloths and other supplies all add up to one heavy load! In such scenarios, it is important to lift with the knees to prevent injury.

As a painter, it is your right to be trained correctly – but it ultimately your duty to make sure you protect yourself long term pain and injury if you frequently carry or lift heavy loads.

  • Use a trolley if possible for moving loads to and around the work area
  • For loads over 20kg – get some help from a co-worker.
  • Avoid awkward postures and repetitive tasks, take a break or two.
  • Keep the staging area clean, organized and clutter free.
  • When lifting, bend your knees, not your back! Always easier to use the strong leg muscles than to have a sore back  
  • A stable posture is essential – put one foot slightly in front of the other for a good stance

Ladders: A ladder is one of the most important tools of a professional painter. The obvious safety concern here is falling from a ladder. Surprisingly, a majority of the falls from ladders do not happen off extension ladders. They happen off the smaller step ladders. When you get too comfortable with step ladders, a fall is likely. Why? Most of us assume that since you’re only on a step ladder you have less of a distance to fall. When using step ladders you are not supposed to use the top of the ladder or the last rung on the ladder to stand on because it’s very easy to lose your balance.

Ladders should be inspected regularly for structural damage and replaced with new ones if necessary. The Ontario Ministry of Labour has a page that helps explain the Occupational Health and Safety Act’s obligations for ladder safety.

Painters with protective equipment and on ladder

Random Safety Tips for Painters

  • Prior to starting work, ensure the room is as empty as possible.
  • Make sure the drop cloths are not bunched up and become a trip hazard.
  • Do not forget to turn off electricity before you work with any electrical fixtures.
  • Be aware that some rooms like bathrooms are not the cleanest to paint.
  • Try to keep pets and small children away from the areas being painted.
  • Keep paint out of the reach of children. Curiosity can also lead to problems!
  • Keep harmful paint away from your skin by wearing gloves and wash your hands often.
  • Keep flammable paints, soiled rags and thinners away from heating vents and the sun.
  • Keep the windows open. You need ventilation with water based paints.
  • Extension ladders should be secure and erected safely.
  • Be aware of wasps when painting outdoors.
  • Use protective clothing when necessary.

The list of safety tips and hazards listed above is not comprehensive. Whether you are a painter or a painting contractor, educate yourself about safety hazards before starting a project. If there are issues that become apparent after a job begins, it is necessary to address them the moment they’re noticed. No one should have to work in an unsafe environment and no employer should allow that either.

At Ecopainting, we take the safety of our painters and of everyone around the painters very seriously. If the job isn’t safe, we stop until we can do it safely.

Questions? Call us on 416-733-7767 and we’ll be more than happy to assist.

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