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How To Paint Safely

Jul 9, 2008
Ann was tired of those hot rubber gloves. She had been using a solvent to remove the stain from the wooden stairs leading to the upstairs bedroom for four hours now, and her patience had worn thin. She had made good progress on the wood, and felt she deserved a break.

Ann got a cold soda, removed the gloves and returned to work. Half an hour later, her hands were beginning to blister and peel, and the pain was intense. She was able to call her husband at work, and he drove her to the emergency room where she was treated for mild chemical burns.

The next time you plan to use a brush, keep these things in mind.

Read And Heed All Labels

* The most important thing to do before painting is to read the paint can label. It can tell you if the paint contains anything that may be flammable, combustible, poisonous, corrosive, or otherwise dangerous.

* If the paint product is flammable or combustible, take the following precautions:
-Eliminate all sources of flame, sparks, and ignition. Put out pilot lights by turning off the gas, and do not re-light them until well after the room is free of vapors.
-Do not smoke.
-Don't use electrical equipment that may spark. This includes most electrical fans.
-Keep cans closed when not in use, and away from children.

* Avoid direct physical contact with paints and solvents. When working with paint labeled Danger/Warning or Caution, wear:
-a long-sleeve shirt and long pants;
-butyl rubber gloves. Not only will this protect the skin, it will make cleanup much easier.
-splash goggles;
-a respirator for spray painting.

* Modern paint contains no lead, but if you are working in a home built before 1978, there is a chance that there may be old, lead-based paint on walls or trim. If lead-based paint is in good condition (not chipping, peeling, or chalking), it is not hazardous. However, sanding or scraping old paint can result in the generation of lead-contaminated dust.

* The National Lead Information Center has more information on dealing with old lead hazards.

The Careful Artist At Work

* Evaluate the job. Are you comfortable doing it? Consider hiring a professional, particularly for any project involving a straight ladder.

* If you decide to do the work, get the proper equipment and ladders before you start. Inspect the ladders and review ladder safety.

* Allow sufficient time to move the furniture and do the job right. Don't rush into an accident.

* On a stepladder, do not climb higher than the second rung from the top. Avoid overreaching. If you use a ladder in front of a door, lock the door and barricade the other side.

* Never use a stove to heat a paint can. Let it warm in a room.

* Open all windows and doors to increase ventilation and minimize vapor accumulation.

* Fans are sometimes helpful in moving air, but do not use them when applying flammable or combustible products.

* Do not paint in deep basements, as vapors will accumulate near the floor and be hard to remove.

* Paint with a partner. If you become dizzy or fall, someone will be there to assist you.

* If your eyes water or you feel dizzy or nauseated, leave the work area and get plenty of fresh air. If the discomfort persists, see a doctor.

* Make sure light bulbs aren't exposed to sudden breakage.

Safe Cleanup And Storage

* To prevent spontaneous combustion, paint rags should be hung outside to dry for four days.

* If you clean brushes with paint thinner or turpentine, keep them away from ignition sources.

* Call your local waste authority for guidance on proper disposal of paint, paint cans, and rags.

* Clean up any spills promptly.

* Keep containers tightly covered when not in use to reduce vapors and reduce the chance of spill.

* Supervise your children. Don't let them chew on painted surfaces or put paint chips in their mouths.

* The National Paint and Coatings Association has more safety information.
About the Author
John Myre is the author of the award-winning book, Live Safely in a Dangerous World, and the publisher of the Safety Times Reproducible Articles..
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