Paints, dyes, inks and adhesives are some of the most commonly used hazardous substances, and are collectively known as surface coatings.

Some surface coatings are solvent based; however, there is also a steady increase in the use of water-based products in the workplace. Many of these substances present an airborne risk to workers and others.

Hazards of surface coatings

The handling, storage and use of hazardous substances at work are regulated under the health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) and the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 (the Regulations). The hazardous properties of a substances are classified (put into groups) to determine how the risks can be managed.

Most hazardous substances have more than one hazardous property and therefore have more than one classification. Solvent-based products fall mainly into a flammable grouping. Water-based products will normally be of lower risk, although some may have acute or chronic toxicity or corrosive hazards, and others may be non-hazardous. Industrial protective paints include single-pack and multi-pack epoxies, for example polyurethanes, road-marking paints, acrylic lacquers such as automotive spray paint and nitrocellulose lacquers. In general, these products will have acute or chronic toxicity, corrosive and flammable hazards.

Acute toxicity includes short-term effects, such as eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, while chronic toxicity refers to the longer-term effects such as carcinogenicity, or dermal and respiratory sensitisation.

Solvents, thinners and tinters are used extensively. Thinners are used with solvent based paints to achieve the correct application properties and are generally blends of solvents with a flammable grouping.

Using your substances and complying with HSWA and the Regulations

Often what you need to do to comply with HSWA and the Regulations will depend on what and how much of each hazardous substance you have on site. A hazardous substances toolbox(external link) has been created to help PCBUs who own or manage small industrial businesses to work safely with hazardous substances and to increase compliance with HSWA. The Toolbox includes information on how to comply with key HSNO rules (controls), such as when you need a compliance certificate, signs and an emergency response plan. You can also learn more about safely managing your substances, watch animated training videos and download templates for completing an inventory of your hazardous substances.

The hazardous substances calculator(external link) can help you work out which key controls you need in your workplace. Visit the Hazardous Substances Toolbox website to use the Calculator, learn more about safely managing your substances, watch animated training videos and download templates.

Easy ways to reduce your compliance requirements (and costs) are to eliminate substances you no longer use, replace very hazardous substances with safer alternatives, and reduce the amount of substances you’re keeping on site.

Environmental awareness

Careful management of hazardous substances is important to protect both people and the environment. Consider changing your hazardous substances to ones with lesser hazards. Also, be aware of products with the ecotoxic GHS symbol on the label – this means that it’s hazardous to the environment.