Spray painting is an efficient way to apply high-quality paint coatings to a wide range of surfaces and it’s used in many industries. Despite its benefits, the process is hazardous and presents a range of health and safety risks that need to be controlled.
What are the risks of spray painting?
Spray painters are exposed to several hazards and their associated risks, including:
- hazardous chemicals—chemicals in products like solvents, paints and adhesives can cause dermatitis, headaches and nausea, as well as extremely serious conditions such as lung cancer, damage to the reproductive system, kidney or liver, and painter's syndrome, which affects the brain
- dust—sanding surfaces before painting can release harmful dust particles such as lead and crystalline silica
- machinery and equipment—machinery such as spray-guns, sanders and grinders can cause many kinds of injuries
- fire and explosion—many paints, solvents and adhesives contain flammable substances which have the potential to ignite
- electrical hazards—electrostatic spray-guns have electrically charged nozzles which can cause an electric shock
- confined spaces—confined spaces can have unsafe oxygen levels and the potential for fire and explosions
- heat—if spray painters are working in hot environments and wearing protective clothing, they’re at risk from heat stress
- slips, trips, and falls — spills on the floor, tripping hazards like hoses and equipment, housekeeping issues, and poor cleaning practices can cause injuries
- hazardous manual tasks — musculoskeletal disorders can be caused by
- awkward postures and forceful exertion when surfaces on vehicles are prepared
- handling objects that are being spray painted
- handling that’s associated with storing, preparing and mixing paint
- operating equipment
- workplace design and layout—manually pushing heavy loads and items into booths or up ramps can cause harm.
How do I manage the risks?
Workers and management can work together to reduce spray-painting risks and find ways to stay safe at work. A safe place of work benefits everyone. Read more about how you can create safe work.
If you’re a spray painter, you need to take care your work doesn’t adversely impact your own health and safety or that of others. You must comply, as much as you are reasonably able, with any reasonable health and safety instructions, policies, and procedures from your employer.
If you’re an employer or person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), it’s your duty to manage risks at work in accordance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
Following the four-step risk management process below will help you identify and control the risks associated with spray painting and meet your responsibilities under work health and safety laws.
Use the practical advice in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) to help you develop, implement, and review effective controls in your place of work. Find out more about how to create safe work, what your responsibilities are, and how to keep your workers safe.
Four steps to manage risk
You can identify potential hazards by:
- inspecting your workplace for potential hazards, such as confined spaces, possible sources of ignition, and unmanaged dust. Read more in the Specific spray-painting hazards-section below
- observing the work and talking to workers about how it is carried out
- inspecting materials and equipment being used and where they are stored
- reading product labels, safety data sheets (SDS) and manufacturers’ instruction manuals
- talking to manufacturers, suppliers, industry associations, and health and safety specialists
- reviewing incident reports.
Assessing the severity of risks and the likelihood of them happening will help you decide what control measures to put in place. Section 2.2 of the Spray painting and powder coating code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.2 MB) has information about risk assessments, including when they are required — for example, when working in confined spaces. You can also read more about possible risks in the What are the risks of spray painting? section above.
- How often and for how long are workers exposed to the hazard?
- Will the outcome of exposure be severe, moderate, or mild?
- How do workers interact with the hazard—for example are they exposed to hazardous chemicals by breathing it in or through skin contact?
- Is there evidence of contamination—for example dust or fumes visible in the air, chemical odours, spills, splashes?
- How is spray painting carried out—for example is it in a confined space or above head level?
- What are the skills, competence, and experience of the operator?
- How do the shape and position of the objects to be painted affect the postures workers have to be in to perform the work?
Assessing the risk of hazardous chemicals
You should assess the risks of hazardous chemicals used in each stage of the spray-painting or powder-coating activity. The code of practice has advice on how to do this. You can also refer to the Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB) for more information about hazardous chemicals.
Hazardous area classifications and obligations
If you’re working in a space where there is, or is likely to be, a flammable or explosive atmosphere, you must conduct a hazardous area classification. You have special obligations under electrical safety laws if there is electrical equipment installations in hazardous areas (PDF, 0.13 MB) .
Once you have a good understanding of the risks at your place of work, you should choose how you’re going to reduce or eliminate the risk. The law requires you to put controls in place that minimise the risk as far as reasonably practicable.
The Spray painting and powder coating code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.2 MB) has advice on how to control risks that you must follow.
Control measures can be ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. This ranking is known as the hierarchy of control.
You should always aim to eliminate a hazard and associated risk first. If this isn’t reasonably practicable, you should minimise the risk by using one or more of the following approaches:
- substitution—for example, you could use:
- water-based paint instead of an organic solvent-based coating
- isocyanate-free or low-isocyanate paints
- low- or zero-volatile organic solvent (VOC) paints
- a brush or roller instead of a spray gun
- triglycidyl-isocyanurate-free (TGIC) powder coating instead of one containing TGIC
- high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) spraying rather than airless spraying
- low-hazard cleaning solvents
- isolation—for example, spray painting in booths so other workers are not impacted
- engineering controls—for example, installing ventilation systems to reduce exposure to vapours and aerosols, or using mechanical aids to avoid high force on workers’ bodies.
If risks remain, you can put administrative controls in place, like restricting access to spray painting areas. Minimise any remaining risk by using suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), for example respirators, gloves, aprons and protective eyewear.
You might have to combine several control measures to adequately control the risks from spray painting and powder coating.
Make sure you include your workers in any decisions about how you’re going to control the risks. Ask them if any tasks cause discomfort, are especially challenging, or could be done differently. Their experience will help you to choose control methods that work on paper and in practice.
See below for examples of control measures that can be used for the different risks associated with spray painting.
Managing risks is an ongoing process. You should regularly review your control measures to make sure they’re still effective and workers are using them correctly. Also look out for new hazards that can appear when there are changes to the way work is done.
As part of ongoing review, you could:
- regularly test spray booths and make sure they’re properly maintained
- monitor the air to measure airborne contaminants from spray painting processes
- do biological testing, such as urine testing, to determine workers’ isocyanate exposure
- ensure regular maintenance on spray guns, trolleys, and automated paint mixers.
Specific spray-painting hazards
Each type of spray-painting work has specific hazards you must address. The following sections have advice on what these hazards are, their risks, and the steps you can take to stay safe.
Hazardous chemicals used in spray painting include paints, solvents, powders, acrylic lacquers, enamels, paint removers, resins, adhesives, surface-preparation products, rust converters, and rust removers. Workers can be exposed to hazardous chemicals by inhaling, swallowing, or absorbing it through the skin and eyes.
If you’re a PCBU, you are required by law to make sure no one at your workplace is exposed to a substance or mixture in an airborne concentration that exceeds its exposure standard.
There are three types of exposure standards:
- 8-hour time-weighted average
- peak limitation
- short-term exposure limit.
Exposure standards do not draw a line between a healthy and unhealthy working environment – they set a maximum legal upper limit. You must take all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate exposure or minimise exposure to a level well below the exposure standard. Chemicals with workplace exposure standards are listed in the Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants.
Isocyanates have an airborne exposure standard but they are also a risk to workers through skin contact so air monitoring alone may not accurately estimate exposure. You may have to do biological monitoring, like urine testing, to get a more accurate exposure result.
To comply with work health and safety regulations, you may need to monitor workplace contaminant levels for chemicals with exposure standards.
Some chemicals are restricted and you must not use, handle, or store them for spray painting. They include:
- arsenic compounds
- benzene (benzol), if the substance contains more than 1 per cent by volume
- carbon disulphide (carbon bisulphide)
- free silica (crystalline silicon dioxide)
- lead carbonate
- methanol (methyl alcohol), if the substance contains more than 1 per cent by volume
- tetrachloromethane (carbon tetrachloride)
- tributyl tin.
Register of hazardous chemicals
Before you start your register of hazardous chemicals, you must have an up-to-date, compliant safety data sheet (SDS) for each chemical. You can read about how to prepare a safety data sheet in the Preparation of safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.05 MB).
You must maintain a register of hazardous chemicals to help you manage chemicals and to know what to do if someone is affected by a chemical. The register must list the hazardous chemical products in the workplace and their current SDS subject to any exclusions and exemptions.
Ways to control hazards
- Use water-based paint instead of organic solvent-based paint.
- Use a spray-painting booth that has been designed, constructed, installed, maintained, and tested in accordance with AS/NZS 4114:2020 Spray painting booths, designated spray-painting areas and paint mixing rooms.
- If a spray booth isn’t reasonably practical, use:
- a designated spray-painting area to prevent exposure to others
- a local exhaust ventilation system to capture overspray and solvent vapour (see section 3.3 in the code of practice) (PDF, 1.2 MB)
- barriers to restrict entry to spray zones.
- Use fans and natural fresh air (as well as local exhaust ventilation) to displace contaminated air.
- Automate the spray-painting process or use a less hazardous process such as HVLP spraying.
- Use dust-extraction equipment to prevent dust while dry sanding.
- Prevent slips, trips, and falls by keeping booths clear of unnecessary equipment, storing hoses, avoiding contaminants reaching the floor, and checking workers are wearing non-slip enclosed footwear.
- Have clean-up and emergency procedures in place.
- Ensure workers use appropriate PPE, including the correct type of respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
For more information, refer to the Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB).
Two-pack paint-and-varnish systems
Two-pack paint-and-varnish systems may include chemicals called isocyanates. Repeated exposures to isocyanates can cause occupational asthma for many people. Paints containing isocyanates should be considered high risk and you must take precautions to protect workers from exposure.
You must monitor the health of any workers who use isocyanate paints regularly and are at significant risk of a health effect from exposure.
Stop the spread of dust
- Use wet sanding processes where practical.
- Use tools that have built-in extraction or connect to dust extraction systems.
Reduce dust in the workplace
- Use a local exhaust ventilation to capture dust at the source.
- Have enough general ventilation or use mechanical ventilation like extraction fans to dilute the amount of dust in the air.
- Isolate or contain dusty tasks by using dust-proof barriers around work areas where dust is generated.
Keep the workplace clean
- In a panel shop, use a vacuum cleaner rather than a broom to reduce dust in the air. If there are hazardous chemicals in the dust, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. The type of vacuum you need will depend on the type of dust. Read more about selecting the right portable extractor or industrial vacuum cleaner for hazardous dusts. (PDF, 0.62 MB)
- In the spray-painting area, wet down the paint dust before sweeping it up. Active isocyanate particles can get into the air if dust is swept up dry. Don’t clean up paint dust with a dry vacuum cleaner – it can catch on fire.
- Don't use compressed air to blow dust or clean clothing.
Reduce dust inhalation
- Make sure workers use respiratory protective equipment and are trained in how to use it properly. Respirators must meet AS/NZS 1716:2012. There are specific requirements for respirators for working with hazardous dusts and respirable crystalline silica.
- Some dusts have their own workplace exposure standard, like respirable crystalline silica and lead dusts. You should also refer to Safe Work Australia’s workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants for more information.
Avoid products containing crystalline silica
Some body fillers and polishes contain crystalline silica, which can cause irreversible lung disease if it’s inhaled. A product's label or safety data sheet should specify whether it contains crystalline silica. If so, use an alternative product if you can. If that’s not possible, take all measures to prevent workers inhaling the dust. Depending on your workers’ exposure risk, you might need air monitoring and health monitoring.
Look out for lead
Lead pigments were used in motor vehicle paints and filler products for many years. Workers who prepare old vehicles for painting may be exposed to lead. The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 contains specific requirements for working with lead.
Spray painters use a range of equipment that can sometimes cause injury.
Preventing injuries from equipment
You can prevent injuries by:
- properly maintaining and cleaning equipment according to the manufacturer's instructions
- using a pneumatic sander rather than an electrical one, or a HVLP spray gun instead of a conventional compressed air one for touch ups
- ensure equipment is fit for purpose and being used as per manufacturers’ instructions
- consider the design of handles, capacity/volume of the paint pots and how equipment is used to minimise awkward postures
- clearly indicating where emergency stops are
- making sure workers aren’t fatigued when using equipment by setting realistic timeframes and allowing regular mini-breaks.
If you use spray-painting booths, make sure they’re designed and built to comply with AS/NZS 4114.1:2020.
Spray booths should have effective exhaust capture and filtration systems and must be able to maintain an average air flow rate (measured when the booth is empty) of at least:
- 0.3 metres/second for full downdraught booths
- 0.4 metres/second for electrostatic spray-painting booths
- 0.5 metres/second for any other booth.
Motor vehicles in bake ovens
- When placing vehicles in a spray booth/bake oven, always remove LP gas cylinders or fuel tanks first, if possible. Where this isn’t practical, operate the bake oven at a temperature that doesn’t allow fuel vapour or gas to be released to the bake-oven atmosphere.
- Make sure there’s no ignition source within the oven air-circulation zone. Any recirculated hot air should include enough fresh air to remove the potential build-up of explosive gas.
- If you need to push vehicles in and out, minimise the need for intense physical effort by using appropriate mechanical aids and making sure the flooring is flat.
Refer to the Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB) for more information.
Many paints contain flammable substances and there’s a risk of fire and explosion if painting mist is ignited.
Sources of ignition
Possible sources of ignition include:
- open flames, such as matches, lighters, cigarettes, and welding and cutting torches
- hot surfaces, including engines, motors, and light bulbs
- chemical reactions – mixing some hazardous chemicals can generate heat or static
- sparks from electrical equipment and portable electric tools, such as abrasive grinding wheels, radios, and mobile phones
- static electricity from poorly earthed equipment.
There must be no ignition sources in the air-circulation zone around ovens used to bake automotive coatings. Recirculated hot air should include enough fresh air intake to prevent the build-up of potentially explosive vapours.
Spontaneous fires are sometimes caused when:
- flammable materials, paint, and solvent-soaked rags aren’t stored correctly
- there’s a build-up of paint residue in work areas or on equipment.
If you use, store, and handle flammable substances, it’s likely a hazardous area will be present at your workplace and you must take hazardous-area precautions.
- Identify all areas where hazardous explosive atmospheres may occur and assess the frequency and duration of these to classify the areas into zones. This is known as hazardous-area classification.
- A competent person must carry out hazardous-area classifications in accordance with the following Australian Standards:
- Assessing hazardous areas is a complex process that needs specialist knowledge. Engage a specialist to help you assess and manage hazardous area risks.
- Hazardous areas can include storage areas, paint-mixing rooms, and spray zones and enclosures.
- Electrical equipment (for example, exhaust fans and lighting) installed in a hazardous area must be suitably rated and effectively earthed to adequately control any ignition risks. Electrical equipment installed in a hazardous area is regulated under electrical safety laws.
Ways to control hazards
- Eliminate ignition sources from hazardous areas associated with the storage, handling and use of flammable substances.
- Use spray booths certified as fit-for-purpose by the manufacturer to prevent flammable vapours igniting.
- Correctly earth equipment and eliminate short circuits.
- Make sure work areas are well ventilated to prevent the build-up of flammable vapours. This will help to minimise the associated hazardous area and the fire and explosion risk.
- Mix and pour flammable liquids in a clearly designated area with adequate ventilation and no sources of ignition.
- Before pouring flammable liquids from one container to another:
- set both containers down on an earthed surface
- then bring the containers into contact while pouring
- keep the containers in contact while pouring (it’s best to connect them with alligator clips). This helps reduce the risk of electrostatic sparking which can cause an ignition. Also refer to the next section on electrical hazards.
- When you use containers with air lines, replace the plugs as soon as the airlines are disconnected.
- Treat empty drums or cans that contained flammable solvent, thinners, or paint as if they contain residual liquid and explosive vapours until you can dispose of them correctly. Never use flammable liquid containers for any other purpose unless they have been verified as being free of flammable residues and vapours.
- Store and handle flammable liquids correctly, for example, in containers with lids to prevent flammable vapours forming.
- Remove LP gas cylinders or fuel tanks from vehicles before placing them in a spray booth/bake oven. Where this isn’t practical, operate the spray booth/bake oven at the lowest possible temperature and below the levels where fuel vapours are released.
- Establish a spray zone with warning signs that restrict access.
- Provide fire extinguishers and train workers in their use.
Using electricity in spray painting exposes workers to the risk of electric shock and burns.
The risk of static discharge
There’s a risk of static discharge when two metal cans touch during decanting and during electrostatic spray painting. You can find information on controlling static electricity in section 3.6 of the Spray painting and powder coating code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.2 MB).
Operating electrical equipment in hazardous areas
Don’t operate electrical equipment:
- inside a hazardous area like a mixing room or a spray-painting booth unless the equipment is designed for a hazardous area—for example it may be installed in accordance with AS/NZS 60079.14:2017: Explosive atmospheres – Design selection, erection and initial inspection
- that is damaged or not designed to give explosion protection in any hazardous area identified in AS60079.10.1: Explosive atmospheres – Classification of areas – Explosive gas atmospheres.
There are legal obligations under electrical safety laws if you have electrical equipment or installations within a hazardous area.
Ways to control hazards
- Keep electrical equipment a safe distance from spray painting zones.
- Make sure electrostatic spraying systems are only operated by trained spray painters.
- Create zones exclusively for electrostatic spraying with:
- floors made of an electrically conducting material which is earthed
- an exhaust system that provides air movement of at least 0.4 metres/second at the spray position.
- Remove drums of paint or cleaning solvent from the spray zone.
- Earth equipment and metal surfaces within three metres of the charged head of the spray gun used in electrostatic spraying.
- Remove metal items (such as watches), material with silk or synthetic fibres, and insulating gloves (except those with the palms cut out), before entering the spray zone.
- Wear antistatic or conductive footwear to stop the build-up of electrostatic charge. Avoid old footwear or footwear with paint, oil, or wax-stained soles.
- When cleaning the spray gun, check that the high-voltage supply is switched off.
Spray painters sometimes work in confined spaces with poor ventilation or restricted entry and exit points. These environments can have low oxygen levels and can expose painters to toxic or flammable vapours, and potential harm from engulfment and mechanical equipment. The risks include burns, electrocution, suffocation and asphyxiation, poisoning, crush injuries, sprains and strains, brain damage and death.
Ways to control hazards
- Remove the object to be painted from the confined space, if possible.
- Use mechanical ventilation systems and non-sparking tools if there’s a flammable atmosphere.
- If you’re using an air-supplied respiratory device, protect the breathing line at all times.
- Wear correct PPE.
Find out more about controlling hazards in the Confined spaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.45 MB).
Spray painters can be at risk of a heat-related illness because of:
- the conditions of the workplace, for example working in hot or humid environments
- the protective equipment required, for example coveralls, gloves, and respiratory protection
- individual factors, such pre-existing heart, circulatory or skin disorders, some medications, or acclimatisation.
Heat-related illnesses can happen when your body can’t lose heat quickly enough. Effects can be mild to severe and include irritability, discomfort, dehydration, heat rash, cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Ways to control hazards
- Limit the time spent wearing chemical protective clothing and PPE such as helmets and protective suits. Wear cotton garments underneath PPE.
- Rotate jobs so you don’t have to work for long periods in hot conditions.
- Take regular short breaks and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
- Shade an outdoor work area from the sun or reschedule work for a cooler time of day.
Standards and compliance
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011
- Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants
Codes of Practice
- Spray painting and powder coating code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.2 MB)
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- Confined spaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.45 MB)
- Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB)
- Preparation of safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.05 MB)
- Hazardous manual tasks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.38 MB)
- Managing electrical risks in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.25 MB)