Spray Painting? Keep Yourself Protected

By Mark Tartaglia
Last updated: May 3, 2018
Key Takeaways

The right coveralls can keep you safe during spray painting projects.

Spray painting is one of the most common methods of paint application. Paint and other coatings have two primary functions – decoration and protection – both of which provide considerable benefit.


Decorating and protecting new and existing structures, such as homes, apartments, and other buildings, accounts for a substantial amount of paint used each year. Another significant volume of paint and coating is used as product finishes to decorate and protect industrial products.

Embarking on a spray painting project? Find out more about the hazards to look out for and how to best protect yourself.


OSHA Standards

OSHA regulates worker exposure to the many chemicals used in spray painting. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is commonly used in conjunction with other exposure controls to protect workers from any hazardous chemicals present. When PPE is used, the OSHA standards require a hazard assessment of tasks, followed by justification for selecting appropriate protective equipment.

The OSHA requirements for PPE, including the requirement for documented hazard assessments, can be found in the regulations at 29 CFR 1910, Subpart I, Sections 132-138 for general industry and 29 CFR 1915, Subpart I, Sections 151-160 for the maritime industry. The construction regulations have requirements for the provision of PPE based on the hazards present, but do not require documented hazard assessments regarding the selection of the equipment.

Principal Hazards and Fire Risks when Spray Painting

What hazards do you need to look out for when spray painting? The main hazards associated with spray painting tasks are related to the components in the paint or coating, as well as the application process itself. Typically, a paint or coating is a mixture of solvents, pigments, and other additives that may have negative health effects on workers who are over exposed to them by inhalation or dermal contact.

Some paints and coatings contain isocyanates, which are powerful sensitizers and irritants that can cause serious health effects due to both dermal and respiratory exposures. Additionally, the solvents commonly used are often flammable or combustible, so the handling of these products presents a fire risk that is enhanced during spray applications due to the generation of significant amounts of aerosols and vapors.

Additionally, because many paint applications occur outdoors during summer months or in enclosed indoor spaces with heavy machinery, a frequently cited challenge facing these workers is heat stress. When conducting the risk assessment, it is key to observe work practices and environmental conditions to determine what types of environmental hazards, such as heat stress, may be present in addition to the hazardous materials. There are garments available, such as Tyvek® 400 D, that are designed to help minimize heat stress risks by providing the protection and durability of Tyvek® fabric on the front and the comfort and breathability of spunbond-meltblown-spunbond (SMS) fabric on the back (ProShield® 10). These garments may be suitable for use when spray paint exposure is primarily in front.


Protection from Exposure and Fire Risks

In spray applications of paints or coatings, workers are typically protected from the exposure and fire risks by a combination of engineering and administrative controls used in combination with PPE. A spray booth is the most common type of engineering control used for spray applications, both to protect workers and reduce fire risk. There are a variety of spray application techniques used in painting as well, such as:

  • Air pressure fed
  • Low pressure/low volume
  • High pressure/low volume
  • Airless

The spray application process involves a range of activities, including mixing, application, inspection, touch-up, and clean-up that can have differing exposure potential depending on the level, duration and frequency of exposure. If not properly protected, workers can be exposed to dry particulates, aerosols, and liquid splash, depending on the task.

In a well-designed and operated spray booth, the spray operators should only encounter small, airborne liquid or solid aerosols of paint. Paint spray aerosols typically range from 0.5 μm to greater than 10 μm, depending on the spray application equipment used. At these sizes, the penetration behaviors of liquid and solid aerosols are similar.


Tyvek® garments are frequently used in spray paint operations because the fabric provides a balance of protection, durability, and comfort. Coveralls made with Tyvek® fabric may be suitable for protecting workers in paint applications because the structure of Tyvek® offers a high degree of protection against airborne particles while also being highly resistant to abrasion.

Even higher liquid barrier is achieved with garments made from Tychem® barrier fabrics with taped seams. However, that higher level of barrier protection comes with a significantly higher risk of heat stress. Tychem® garments are appropriate for situations in which the wearer has the potential for prolonged exposure to unreacted activator or solvents, such as in the maintenance of large-scale paint distribution equipment, spill cleanup, or large volume mixing activities.

Interested in learning more about PPE for Painting Applications? Join DuPont’s free webinar on Thursday, February 1st at 1PM ET to learn in detail about the hazards associated with painting, the fabric technologies used in different types of painting applications, and the key considerations you’ll want to keep in mind to keep your workers safe and productive.

Check out the rest of our content about Personal Protective Equipment here.

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Written by Mark Tartaglia | Safety Expert

Mark Tartaglia

Mark Tartaglia, MSPH, CIH has almost thirty years of experience working in the occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) field, primarily in the pharmaceutical, chemical and environmental services industries. He began his career as a research scientist before attending graduate school to acquire technical training in occupational/environmental health and industrial hygiene. His diverse experience includes leading the development of OEHS programs and processes from entrepreneurial start-ups to Fortune 500 organizations. In particular, he has subject matter expertise in industrial hygiene, risk assessment and the implementation of effective employee exposure controls.

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