Spray painting is used in a variety of industries and by a variety of workers. It is used to paint motor vehicles, buildings (inside and outside), structures, furniture, white goods, boats, ships, aircraft and machinery.
Spray painting is associated with a number of health and safety concerns. A person conducting a business undertaking (PCBU) must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers at the workplace.
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.
Hazardous chemicals may be inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin and eyes.
The potential health and safety risks range from short term effects such as irritant contact dermatitis, headaches and nausea to extremely serious conditions such as lung cancer, damage to the reproductive system, kidney or liver, and 'painter's syndrome' (which affects the brain).
People's exposure to hazardous chemicals should be eliminated, or where it cannot be eliminated, it should be minimised. No one is to be exposed to a substance or mixture in an airborne concentration which exceeds the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants (Safe Work Australia).
You must manage the risk to your health, and the health of your workers, from the use of a hazardous chemicals.
Ways to control hazards
- Use a spray booth when applying a hazardous chemical, except when it is not practical (e.g. painting a building) or when the work is minor (e.g. painting over a stone chip on a car).
- Where a spray booth is not practical, use a local exhaust ventilation system to capture overspray and solvent vapour as close to the source as possible. The system should be fitted with a particulate filtration mechanism to filter overspray and should comply with AS 1482 Electrical equipment for explosive atmospheres – Protection by ventilation – Type of protection
- Use fans and natural fresh air (as well as local exhaust ventilation) to displace contaminated air. Systems should comply with Australian Standard 1482.
- Use water based paint instead of organic solvent based paint.
- Automate the process or use a less hazardous process (e.g. use high volume-low pressure (HVLP) spraying rather than conventional spraying).
- Avoid dry sanding unless dust extraction equipment is used.
- Dedicate a spray zone with barriers to restrict entry.
- Ensure safe spray painting operations, and keep booths clear of unnecessary equipment. Have cleanup and emergency procedures in place.
- Obtain a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for every hazardous chemical.
- Ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is available and correctly used.
Dust from such things as sanding is a common occurrence. The following outlines ways to reduce the clean-up time and inhalation of dust. It is important to reduce the amount of dust in the workplace, as it can contain crystalline silica, which can lead to lung disease.
Reducing the escape of dust
- use wet sanding processes where practical
- using tools that have built-in extraction or connect to dust extraction systems.
Reducing dust in the workplace
- use a 'local extraction' ventilation system – i.e. a mechanical dust extraction system that extracts dust from a specific part of the work area, filters out the dust and has clean make-up air
- have enough general ventilation (fresh air ducted into the workplace or natural ventilation through doors and windows to dilute the amount of dust in the air
- create a separate work area with walls or other dust proof barriers where tasks that generate dust are done
- how to keep the workplace clean:
- in a panel shop, using a vacuum cleaner rather than a broom reduces dust in the air. If hazardous dusts such as those containing crystalline silica are present, a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter would be more appropriate.
- in the spray painting area, wet down the paint dust before sweeping it up. There can still be active isocyanate particles that can get into the air if swept up dry. Paint dust should not be cleaned up with a dry vacuum cleaner as it can catch on fire.
- don't use compressed air to blow dust or blow contaminant from clothes.
Reducing dust inhalation
- use 'respiratory protective equipment'  – i.e. a respirator. Respirators used must meet AS/NZS 1716:2012 (it will have an Australian Standards mark on the package). For many dusts in panel beating, a 'P1' type respirator is appropriate  . The types of respiratory protective equipment are:
- disposable respirators 
- half face and full face respirators (rubber mask with replaceable filters) 
- air supplied breathing apparatus
- air supplied breathing apparatus, then half/full face respirators, provide better protection from inhaling dust and are more cost efficient in the long term.
Important: Crystalline silica
Dust from some body fillers and polishes can contain crystalline silica. If crystalline silica is breathed into the lungs, it can cause irreversible lung disease. If body fillers or polishes containing crystalline silica (check on the product's label or safety data sheet to find out this information), see if you can replace the product with a product not containing crystalline silica. If this is not possible, inhalation of the dust will have to be reduced through a combination of the ways described above.
Workers breathing in dust containing crystalline silica will need to have regular health monitoring.
 People using personal protective equipment, such as respirators, have to be trained in how to use and maintain the equipment properly to ensure its' effectiveness.
 For more hazardous dusts, such as those containing crystalline silica, disposable and 'P1' respirators may not be enough – a better respirator ('P2', half/full face or air supplied) and use of extraction ventilation would be more appropriate.
 People using half/full face and disposable respirators have to be cleanly shaven for the respirator to have a good seal on the face, for it to be effective.
Two pack paint and varnish systems
Two pack paint and varnish systems are used by painters, cabinet makers and motor vehicle sprayers to give a hard resilient finish, however chemicals used in these systems (called isocyanates) cause occupational asthma in a significant percentage of exposed people. Inhalation exposure to isocyanates should be considered as high risk.
Isocyanates used in paint systems can cause health effects when breathed in during paint mixing and spraying or via skin contact.
Spray painting with two pack paints should be conducted within a spray booth fitted with effective exhaust capture and filtration systems.
Ways to control hazards
- Provide induction and training about the health hazards associated with exposure to isocyanates.
- Follow safety instructions provided in the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) accompanying two pack paint and varnish systems. Implement any controls recommended in the SDS, and ensure that workers have easy access to the relevant SDS.
- Conduct air monitoring to measure the airborne concentration of isocyanates and help assess the effectiveness of control measures.
- Wear a full face air-supplied respirator, full length overalls with hood and chemical resistant gloves during spraying. Also wear gloves while cleaning up.
- Ensure the mixing area is well ventilated.
- Arrange a registered medical practitioner to provide ongoing health monitoring for workers who have been exposed to isocyanates while spraying two pack paint and varnish.
Further guidance on hazardous chemicals is provided in the Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB).
Restricted hazardous chemicals
The following chemicals must not be used, handled or stored for spray painting:
- 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.
Lead pigments were used in motor vehicle paints and filler products for many years. Workers who carry out surface preparation activities on old vehicles, such as sanding, may be exposed to lead.
The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 contains specific requirements for working with lead.
Machinery and equipment
Spray painting plant and equipment
Spray painting plant and equipment include spray guns, booths, compressors, pumps, ventilation systems, personal protective equipment (PPE) and hoses.
Spray painters use a range of plant, exposing them to risks such as electric shock, excessive noise, hazardous chemicals and injection injury.
Hazards that could arise during the normal use of spray painting plant and equipment should be managed. In addition, you should identify potential hazards when installing new plant, modifying plant, using existing plant for a different purpose or using plant in unusual circumstances.
Ways to control hazards
- Regularly carry out preventative maintenance on equipment. Always clean airless spray guns according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Use a pneumatic sander rather than an electrical one, or a high volume low pressure (HVLP) spray gun instead of a conventional compressed air one for touch ups.
- Use a barrier to separate people from plant, and provide as much ventilation as possible.
- Ensure that purchasing specifications for new equipment cover all safety features.
- Clearly display equipment information regarding emergency stops/guards.
- When preparing rosters, consider workload and fatigue factors.
Spray painting booths
Spray painting hazardous chemicals must be conducted in booths, except where it is not practical to do so or where the work is of a minor nature.
Booths must be designed and built to comply with AS/NZS 4114.1:2003 – Spray painting booths, designated spray painting areas and paint mixing rooms – Design, construction and testing and regularly checked and maintained.
A spray booth 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 (m/s) for full down draught booths
- 0.4 m/s for electrostatic spray painting booths
- 0.5 m/s for any other booth.
If possible, remove LP gas cylinders or fuel tanks from vehicles before placing them in a spray booth/bake oven. Where this is not practical, bake ovens should be operated at a temperature where it is not possible for fuel vapour or gas to be released to the bake oven atmosphere.
Ovens should be constructed so there is 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. Guidance on plant and equipment can be found in the Managing risks of plant in the workplace model Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.67 MB).
Vehicle hoists, jacks and frame straighteners
Vehicle hoists, jacks and frame straighteners can cause serious injury if they are not used or maintained properly.
Fire and explosion
Many paints contain flammable substances, and spray painting is hazardous if painting mist comes into contact with a source of ignition.
Possible sources of ignition include:
- open flames such as matches, lighters, cigarettes, welding and cutting torches
- hot surfaces including engines, motors and light bulbs
- chemical reactions, mixing hazardous chemicals can generate heat or static (e.g. when the mixing of two-pack epoxy paints creates heat)
- sparks from electrical equipment and portable electric tools such as abrasive grinding wheels, radios and mobile phones
- static electricity from poorly-earthed equipment.
Spontaneous fires may also be started by incorrectly stored flammable materials, paint and solvent soaked rags, or a build up of paint residue in work areas or on equipment.
Ovens used for baking automotive coatings must have no ignition sources within the oven air circulation zone. Recirculation of hot air should include adequate fresh air intake to prevent the build up of potentially explosive vapours.
Ways to control hazards
- Eliminate ignition sources from hazardous areas around flammable liquids, correctly earth equipment and eliminate short circuits. (Hazardous areas for spray painting areas and flammable liquid storage areas are identified by AS60079.10.1 Explosive atmospheres: Classification of areas – Explosive gas atmospheres)
- Ensure work areas are well ventilated to prevent the accumulation of flammable vapours.
- Mix and pour flammable liquids in a clearly designated area with adequate ventilation and free of ignition sources.
- 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 them in contact while pouring (it is best to connect them with alligator clips).
- When using containers with air lines, replace the plugs as soon as the air lines are disconnected.
- Treat empty flammable solvent, thinners or paint drums or cans as if they contain residual liquid and explosive vapours until they can be correctly disposed of.
- Store and handle flammable liquids correctly (e.g. store flammable paints and solvents in containers with lids to prevent evaporation/generation of flammable vapours).
- Remove LP gas cylinders or fuel tanks from vehicles before placing them in a spray booth/bake oven. Where this is not practical, operate the spray booth/bake oven at the lowest possible temperature and below the levels where it is possible for fuel vapour to be released to the atmosphere.
- Establish a spray zone with warning signs that restrict access.
Provide fire extinguishers and train staff in their use.
Electrocution and burns are the main health risks associated with using electricity in spray painting.
Great care should be taken to prevent static discharge (e.g. caused by touching two metal cans together during decanting) and during electrostatic spray painting. Information on controlling static electricity can be found in AS/NZS 1020: The control of undesirable static electricity.
Don't operate electrical equipment 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.
Ways to control hazards
- Keep electrical equipment at a safe distance from spray painting zones.
- Ensure that the electrostatic spraying system is operated only by trained spray painters.
- Carry out electrostatic spraying in a spray zone exclusively reserved for that work. The floor of the zone should be made of an electrically-conducting material which is earthed. The exhaust system must provide 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 (e.g. 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 have to work fully or partly in confined spaces with poor ventilation or restricted entry and exit points. The main hazards presented by this type of work environment are lack of oxygen, toxic or flammable and explosive vapours, engulfment and mechanical equipment.
Associated health risks include burns, electrocution, suffocation and asphyxiation, poisoning, crush injuries, brain damage and death.
Ways to control hazards
- If possible, remove the object to be painted from the confined space.
- Use mechanical ventilation systems and non-sparking tools (if there is a flammable atmosphere). If an air-supplied respiratory device is needed, protect the breathing line at all times.
- Allow only people wearing correct personal protective equipment (PPE) to enter the space.
More information on confined spaces can be found in the Confined spaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.44 MB).
Heat stress occurs when a person's body cannot lose heat fast enough. The person may suffer irritability, discomfort, dehydration, heat rash, cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Heat stress while spray painting may be caused by many factors other than the air temperature in the work area. People most at risk are those who are dressed inappropriately, unfit, overweight, dehydrated, suffering from heart, circulatory or skin disorders, unused to the workplace heat levels or taking medication that can change a body's temperature regulation.
Ways to control hazards
- If the task requires high level chemical protective clothing, limit the time that spray painters have to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as helmets and protective suits. Wear cotton garments underneath PPE.
- Rotate jobs so a spray painter does not have to work for long periods in hot conditions.
- Take frequent short breaks and drink cool water regularly.
- Shade an outdoor work area from the sun or reschedule work to occur in a cooler time of the day.