Health, Wellness & Safety
When it comes to safety, three things really matter: Protect yourself through the use of adequate protective equipment, get all the information about protection that is available to you, and then use common sense.
We can readily explain what each word stands for.
But that is where simplicity stops: Because with paints and solvents, these three subjects involve an immense and complex amount of written material and regulations — just to protect you. In comparison, it would be easier for us to read and understand a physicist’s thesis on atomic energy than to understand the entire issue. To tell you the truth, I would rather try to cover the history of paints and solvents, going back more than 40,000 years when berries provided the pigment and water was the binder.
Like every thing else, the size of the ‘monster’ of coatings safety is best illustrated by using numbers. Did you know that there are more than 650,000 different chemicals used today in everyday life? Here in the U.S., painters apply nine billion pounds, or one billion gallons, of paint. Add to that what the non-painter or home owner splashes on the walls. If the bulk of these figures represent solvent-based coatings, imagine the effect coatings chemicals have, not only to the craftsman but also to the environment. The number of deaths and illnesses caused by undue exposure to chemicals in paints and solvents is equally impressive.
In smaller dosages, these chemicals may be tolerated. But their long-term effect can be critical. If you merely smell a solvent, you are subjected to chemicals and are somewhat at risk to their adverse effects on your brain and body. Even a can of low-odor paint contains chemicals and can put you at risk. Some chemicals can temporarily affect your body and brain, preventing them from functioning properly. A prolonged exposure to solvents could have a chronic effect and cause irreparable damage. In addition, the interactions between chemicals often make ‘the brew’ even more harmful. Also, be aware that some chemical vapors can become an addiction as much as alcohol or smoking.
To maximize your personal safety, first and foremost, read the manufacturer’s instructions on the label. A recent Paint PRO Painter’s Tip, entitled Read the Label, is an important article for you as a painter, whether you are an employee or operate as an independent. Following every instruction the manufacturer and his representative gives you will safeguard your health and protect a life upon which your family and others depend so much.
Next, make sure to have adequate ventilation in the workplace. Finally, use protective gear: a respirator appropriate to the type of chemicals you are handling and your clothing. Although vapors can still enter your body via the skin surface, you should at least try to block the chemicals by using rubber gloves when you deal with the paints or solvents in a concentrated form. This usually occurs when you are cleaning your brushes and sprayers. Keep in mind that the mere tingling of your skin when your hands are ‘submerged’ in solvents is the chemical’s way of telling you they are now entering your body.
The independent painter does not have the benefit of an employer training him or her in the handling of chemicals. These painters must take that extra step voluntarily and seek safety information. This can be found not only on manufacturers’ product labels but also from store personnel. Manufacturers are compelled by government regulations not only to control their manufacturing processes but also to satisfy the user’s right to know through the labeling of their products under Right-to-Know Laws.
Although many still scrutinize the adequacy of this information, the fact is that the dissemination of information on coatings labels, as well as the training of sales representatives and store personnel, can be the painter’s greatest safeguard today.
Additional information can also be found on the Internet, where the majority of what has been written and said about your trade and paint is located. But this can be an utterly confusing experience. It is time consuming to seek just the subject you want to know about. If you have a computer and access to the Internet, here are some good examples of uncomplicated web sites, as well as links to labor unions, your state OSHA and more.
Ultimately, then, when it comes to safety, three things really matter: Protect yourself through the use of adequate protective equipment, get all the information about protection that is available to you, and then use common sense. You know the saying: This is the first day of the rest of your life. How long do you want to live?