Why is PPE and Safety Equipment Important in the Spray Shop?

Employers are responsible for ensuring that exposure to harmful chemicals is prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled (CoSHH Regulations 2002). This guidance explains the common exposure risks in the spray shop environment and the role that personal protective and safety equipment plays in controlling risk.

What are the exposure risks in the spray shop?

The two most common types of risk are high exposure to solvent vapours and reactive products.

Solvent vapour

Short-term exposure to solvent-based coatings at a low concentration can cause:

  • Headaches, dizziness and drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Throat and respiratory irritation

Long-term exposure can result in:

  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Liver, kidney and lung cancers

Reactive products

Repeat exposure to hardeners that contain epoxy or isocyanate can cause skin dermatitis and respiratory conditions such as occupational asthma.

The role of personal protective equipment (PPE)

In environments such as paint shops, it’s not reasonably practicable to eliminate exposure. Employers must, therefore, provide painters with suitable PPE.

PPE is a last resort control measure. It only protects the wearer while it’s being worn and if the equipment fails, it offers no protection at all.

For this reason, it’s important to:

  • Choose the most appropriate type of PPE for the conditions of the job
  • Only buy quality products which are CE marked and labelled as suitable for paint
  • Train painters how to use and store the equipment correctly
  • Carry out the correct maintenance checks and cleaning procedures
  • Ensure that the equipment is the right size, fit and weight for the wearer

Paint shops rarely achieve maximum protection, so there is always room for improvement.

Correct PPE for spray shops

Paint shop operatives use a wide variety of PPE, depending on the task that they are performing. Choosing the correct PPE for the job will minimise the health risks posed by exposure to particles, gases and vapours.

Here are some of the more common items and a brief description of their function.

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) filters the air to remove harmful substances. The type of RPE required will depend on the substance being sprayed.

The different mask types include:

Disposable half-mask

A very basic mask that protects against particles but not gases or vapour. Suitable for spraying certain types of aerosol. Can only be worn for up to an hour at a time.

Semi-disposable half-mask

A lightweight mask that protects against particles and/or vapours and gases. It has a wear-life of one month and therefore requires little maintenance and cleaning.  Can only be worn for up to an hour at a time.

Re-usable half-mask

Provides the same level of protection as a semi-disposable half-mask but can be re-used and is more durable. Can only be worn for up to an hour at a time.

Full face mask

A durable mask that provides eye protection as well as protection against particles and/or vapours and gases. Can only be worn for up to an hour at a time.

Powered hood

A comfortable and durable mask that offers eye protection as well as protection against particles and/or vapours and gases. It can be worn for more than one hour at a time and has low maintenance costs.

Air-fed hood

Provides the highest level of protection and can be worn for more than one hour at a time. Breathing apparatus (BA) supplies clean air for the worker to breathe. Not suitable for all applications.

For more detailed information about selecting the right mask for the job, read What Respirator Should I Choose?

Visor or goggles

Visors provide face and eye protection while goggles only protect the eyes. Choose the level of protection that is most suitable for the work being undertaken. Use a disposable cover with visors to prevent overspray build-up from obscuring visibility.

Disposable overalls

Used universally in paint shops, overalls protect your clothing and skin from contact with chemicals. Opt for one with a hood to protect your head and neck.

Both reusable and disposable overalls are available on the market. Disposable products are more popular. They are lightweight, breathable and convenient to use. Simply discard them at the end of every shift. Reusable overalls are heavier duty and worth considering if you need greater chemical resistance.

Chemical resistant gloves

Single-use nitrile, latex or vinyl gloves protect the hands from overspray and spills. Painters should discard gloves every time they take them off. Gloved hands can get sweaty and this can cause skin irritation. Regularly changing gloves can help to prevent this. Alternatively, choose reusable gloves with a breathable cotton lining. Reusable products offer a wider range of features, such as extended cuffs for additional protection, greater water resistance and cut protection.

Disposable overshoes

Shoes protect feet from exposure to some degree but they are still permeable. Disposable overshoes provide an extra barrier. Discard them on exit from the paint booth after every spray job to help keep the workshop clean.



What other safety equipment is available?

Aside from PPE, employers should choose safety equipment for their spray shop wherever possible. This includes ‘compliant’ spray guns such as electrostatic guns that minimise exposure to mist and dust free sanders that minimise exposure to dust.   Both types of equipment reduce the risk of harmful particles entering the lungs and help to protect the painter from contracting respiratory health problems.

Other considerations

PPE, RPE and safety equipment need to be used in conjunction with other controls to minimise fumes in the paint shop environment. Always ensure that the mixing area is fully ventilated and change spray booth filters regularly.


PPE is the last line of protection against substances hazardous to health. It’s only effective when:

  • The correct equipment is used for the job in hand
  • The person using the equipment has been trained to do so
  • It fits the user
  • It is maintained in line with the manufacturer’s instructions


Paint shop foremen, managers and employees should check their PPE usage to ensure that it’s suitable for the paints and coatings that they are applying.

For more information on paint shop health and safety, contact our team on 01302 856666 or email sales@ultrimaxcoatings.co.uk.


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