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Spray painting has many advantages over brush painting. If you are painting your car, spray painting will result in a smooth surface without the brush strokes left by a paintbrush. For large jobs, such as ships, buildings or houses, it is as much about saving time as it is about how the finished product looks. However, spray painting presents special health and safety hazards. Vaporized paint and fumes can cause organ damage. Some paints are highly flammable. Paint can irritate your skin and cause damage to your eyes. To minimize these risks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has created workplace regulations governing spray painting.
Paint fumes and vaporized paint can cause serious health problems. Some types of paint, such as lacquer and oil-based paints, can cause damage to the brain, liver, kidneys and other organs. Oil-based paint exposure can cause oil-based paint poisoning, with symptoms as mild as itchiness or as severe as coma and death. Prolonged exposure to the skin or eyes can cause serious problems. In addition to the physical health issues, some types of paint are extremely volatile and cause cause fires or explosions. OSHA regulates workplace safety. They have instituted regulations that allow workers to more safely engage in what can be a dangerous process.
All spraying operations must be done in specially constructed, enclosed areas called "spray booths" and "spray rooms." A spray booth must have a powered ventilation system that either keeps vapors and paint spray confined and separate from other work areas or that provides an exhaust vent to remove them. A waterwash spray booth uses water to catch paint residue and dust so that less is passed through the ventilation system. A dry spray booth uses filters to catch some of the paint dust and residue before it enters the ventilation system. The booth must be built solidly of mostly steel, concrete or masonry. The walls must be smooth and without edges that can trap residue. The floor must be covered with a noncombustible and easily cleaned material.
Spraying may be done in spray rooms if they are separate from other work areas. Spray rooms must be built of nonflammable materials, such as steel or concrete. Floors and fire doors must also be nonflammable. The ventilation system must used sealed ductwork to prevent leakage of any vapors or fumes and must meet certain minimum airflow requirements. The ductwork must be supported to stand the weight of the ductwork itself, as well as any additional weight from paint accumlation over time. Spray room ventilation ductwork cannot be connected to any other ventilation systems in the building.
The employer is responsible for ensuring that all workers know about personal protective equipment (PPE) and how to use it, wear it or put it on properly. The employees must know when they should use PPE and the limitations of the equipment. The employer must provide any special PPE. This includes eye and face protection that meets certain standards. To prevent the inhalation of toxic fumes and paint dust, the employer must provide workers with appropriate respirators. The employer is responsible for regular safety checks of all breathing equipment, and must offer workers free periodic medical evaluations. Protective breathing gear must fit tightly against the skin. Facial hair and eyeglasses may not interfere with this.
Electrical equipment is not permitted in areas with flammable vapors, except wiring with no open splices, breaks or fittings. Wiring and electrical equipment not exposed to explosive fumes must be rated explosion-proof. Electric motors that power the exhaust system must be outside the spray area.
Bruce Walker worked at the Washington Post for almost 20 years. He was a makeup editor for the weekly entertainment section, and he occasionally wrote stories and movie reviews. He also has written for airline in-flight magazines and was a contributing writer for several of the Fodor's travel guides.