Every business owner has stresses to deal with and commercial painting bosses are no exception. You are responsible for selling your services, ordering supplies, scheduling employees, paying them and, most importantly, keeping you and your employees safe on the job. This goes beyond making sure your equipment is sturdy and well-maintained and that your painters have the right tools to do their job safely. One of your most critical roles is to be aware of the health risks you may expose workers to and to protect them as much as possible. Today we’ll look at three major health concerns (beyond falls and accidents) that put commercial painters at risk.
#1 VOCs Exposure Risk
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) pose significant health risks to you and your workers. VOCs are substances that have a high tendency to forming vapors or gases. These can be released from paints and other solvents used in your work. Exposure outdoors from these air pollutants is not as serious because of the availability of fresh air to offset them, but when trapped in an enclosed space, such as a room or facility you’re painting, the risk can quickly escalate.
Occasional exposure is not a big deal, but working around VOCs every day as many commercial painters do can lead to serious health complications. Workers that smoke greatly increase their health risks from VOCs exposure. Short-term effects from exposure include irritation to the throat, nose, eyes or respiratory tract, headaches, dizziness, nausea, memory problems, itchiness or rash. Long-term exposure can result in serious outcomes including liver, kidney and central nervous system damage.
Ensure all work sites have proper ventilation, that your painters wear respirators when working with VOCs or in smaller spaces and, when possible, choose low VOC paints that will minimize health risks for your workers and those that will occupy the space once you’ve completed your work.
#2 Stripping and Sanding Risk
We previously discussed the lead-based paint risk you and your workers face when working in older homes. But even in newer homes, preparing surfaces poses risk. Chemical paint strippers are harsh and highly toxic. These can be inhaled easily if proper protective gear is not worn. The toxins can also affect the skin and be absorbed through it. Short-term effects include headache, fatigue, nausea and dizziness.
Long-term exposure effects include damage to organs such as the kidneys, liver or brain. Strippers pose immediate and severe threats to pregnant women and can cause reproductive issues and developmental delays in children. If you’re opting for elbow grease rather than chemical means to prepare a surface for a commercial paint project and are using sanders, you can stir up dust that may contain mold spores or lead-based paint particles. These can cause respiratory problems and heavy metal toxicity.
Knowing whether there is lead-based paint present is essential to protecting your workers. Respiratory gear, heavy duty gloves, eye protection, long sleeves and excellent ventilation are all required to keep workers safe when working with chemical strippers. Keeping dust vacuumed up helps, as well.
#3 Asbestos Risk
This is a serious and terrifying health risk. Asbestos is a mineral made of microscopic fibers that can be inhaled or swallowed. They then embed in the mesothelial lining of the abdominal organs, where they mutate the DNA of cells and can allow cancer to propagate. Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was heavily used in paints and construction for its heat resistant and fireproofing properties. Some paints used in this era has as high as a 10% concentration of asbestos, and anything above 1% is considered toxic.
When working in older homes, there is a risk of dealing with asbestos-laden paint and when working in older residential, government or industrial facilities, there is exposure risk if other remodeling is going on while your painters are at work. Asbestos fibers can be released from walls, ceilings, insulation, flooring and roofing materials. Inhalation of asbestos can result in asbestosis, a painful lung condition, or mesothelioma – a deadly cancer – that is often not diagnosed for decades after exposure.
Researching the history of the work site will help you know if asbestos may be present. If you’re working in a location where asbestos is a possibility, respirators, eye protection and disposable protective gear are the best ways to protect workers from this invisible killer.
Educating yourself and your employees on these health risks is your front-line defense to protect your workers from toxins on the job. Being a responsible business owner means taking care of those that work for you – and you’ll be rewarded not just with a loyal workforce, but a healthy one.