How to Use Isocyanate Paints Safely

isocyanates in paint


How to Use Isocyanate Paints Safely (Including New Legal Requirements)

Painting and spraying with isocyanate paints can cause risks to health and is the primary cause of occupational asthma in the UK. Workers most at risk tend to be vehicle paint sprayers working in body shops or in the commercial vehicle and trailer manufacturing industries. These technicians are 90 times more likely to contract occupational asthma than any other industrial employees. Following the correct health and safety procedures at all times prevents risks of occupational asthma and is a legal requirement under theControl of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH) regulations 2002.


This article will help you make sense of the risks of using isocyanate paints, your responsibilities as an employer and how to reduce the risks in your workplace. It covers the following:

  • Definition of isocyanates
  • Paints that contain isocyanates
  • Why paints contain isocyanates
  • How isocyanates affect the human body
  • Employer legal obligations (including recently updated requirements)
  • How to comply with regulations and keep your workforce safe
  • Alternatives to isocyanate paints


What are isocyanates in paint?

(Di)isocyanates are a family of highly reactive, low molecular weight chemicals that react with alcohol-based compounds to create polyurethanes. Isocyanates are the main chemical component of hardeners for 2-pack (2K) and polyurethane coatings.

What paints contain isocyanates?

Virtually all paint shops use paints and lacquers that contain isocyanate hardener, and even water-based paints can contain isocyanates. In auto, marine and plant manufacturing industries, where durability is essential for product coatings, isocyanate paints and lacquers have historically been the coating of choice.

Why are isocyanates used in paint?

Paints with isocyanate compounds are used because they adhere well, are hard, have excellent chemical resistance properties and can withstand extreme temperatures and conditions. There are currently no commercially viable alternatives offering the same range of properties.


How does isocyanate affect the human body?

Isocyanates are very toxic substances that affect the respiratory system when inhaled. Symptoms often include breathlessness, asthma and chest pain. Continued exposure to isocyanates can cause permanent and severe occupational asthma, which necessitates giving up work.

Some of the symptoms of occupational asthma include:

  • Continually blocked or runny nose
  • Continual problems with sore or watery eyes
  • Tightness in the chest, which persists outside of working hours
  • Wheezing and gasping for breath
  • Persistent cough

Although paint spraying is the primary cause of isocyanate exposure, it can also occur from cleaning spray guns and paint curing.


Your legal obligations as an employer

Don't skip through this section – new legal obligations are on the horizon, and we explain them here!

In the UK, employers are required to comply with the following regulations in relation to spraying isocyanates:


New legal requirements

As of 24 August 2023, employers will also be subject to the REACH restriction on diisocyanates, which stipulates that employers and the self-employed must ensure that industrial or professional user(s) have successfully completed training on the safe use of diisocyanates prior to the use of the substance(s) or mixture(s).

How to comply with regulations and keep your workforce safe

You can find a wealth of guidance and information about how to comply with COSSH and EH40/2005 Workplace exposure limits on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website. Below are some links to key guidance notes for employers of businesses that spray isocyanate paints.

An alternative way to stay compliant is to follow an e-learning module developed by the manufacturers of di-isocyanates to ensure the downstream users of products are compliant. The E-learning modules cost around 5 EUR per training per person and can be completed here Safe Use Di-Iscyanates Training. The majority of industry users will follow this training as it comes directly from the manufacturer and classroom or even face-to-face options are available - check out the listed website for more details.

How to comply with the new REACH restrictions

As stated earlier, from 24 August 2023, the REACH restriction on isocyanates will require that employers and the self-employed must ensure that industrial or professional user(s) have successfully completed training on the safe use of diisocyanates prior to the use of the substance(s) or mixture(s). Here, we break down what that means and what you have to do to comply.


Who are "industrial and professional users"?

In the context of REACH, any worker or self-employed worker handling diisocyanates on their own, as a constituent in other substances or in mixtures for industrial and professional use(s) or supervising these tasks are considered to be industrial or professional users.

The most commonly arising industrial uses and users are the following:
• Professionals spraying in a ventilated booth, cleaning and waste
• Application by roller or brush, cleaning and waste (Professional or Other)
• Spraying outside a ventilated booth, cleaning and waste
• Professional painting with a brush or roller
• Spraying coating outside by professionals


What training do I need to provide as an employer?

The REACH requirements stipulate that training shall include instructions for the control of dermal and inhalation exposure to diisocyanates at the workplace.

The table below provides information on minimum training requirements according to the type of work being conducted.

Training requirements for REACH isocyanate restrictions training

More Advice On Iscoyantes in Paint Via A Short YouTube Training Film

Who can deliver the training?

REACH states that all isocyanate training must be conducted by "an expert on occupational safety and health with competence acquired by relevant vocational training". You can book compliant online training via the Safe Use of Isocyanates website.


How can I tell which coatings are affected?

Coatings manufacturers are now required to place the following statement on the label of products affected by the REACH isocyanate restrictions: "As from 24 August 2023, adequate training is required before industrial or professional use".

When it comes to buying coatings from Ultrimax, the following products are affected:

Alternatives to isocyanate paints

A growing number of water-based coatings now offer several of the properties of isocyanate paints without the health and safety risks. They include:

Need More Help With Isocyanates?

Have peace of mind that you are choosing compliant, high quality lighting – call our Total Paint Shop Support experts today.

Call: 01302 856666


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