Which respirator is right for your paint shop?

By Rory Freeman

Which respirator is right for your paint shop?

It should come as no surprise to learn that paints and coatings can present a risk to safety if not handled correctly. The risk of these hazards rises exponentially when spraying paints and working in a professional setting on industrial-scale jobs. Thankfully, in most cases Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) is enough to protect users from the dangers associated with paint. But, as a responsible employer or paint shop worker, it’s vital that you assess which PPE is right for the job. In this blog, we’ll delve a little deeper into the types of paints and available and which respirators you should choose to protect your own or your employee’s health.

What types of paints are used in a paint shop?

Generally speaking, there are two types of paint in use today: liquid (which includes water-based and solvent-based paints) and powder coatings. The hazards and potential health risks are different for each so it follows that the most effective PPE to use will also differ.

Water and solvent-based paints each have organic solvents (otherwise known as Volatile Organic Compounds – VOCs). As the name suggests, water-based paints generally emit less VOCs than their solvent-based counterparts but both can pose a danger to health if the right protective equipment is not used.

Powder coatings are usually made by blending resins, curing agents, pigments and additives together. The blend results in fine powders or particles which are applied to surfaces using a spray application system.

Can spraying paint be hazardous to health?

The type of paint and the method used to apply determine the nature of operator risks but it’s widely accepted that paints contain isocyanate substances – highly reactive chemicals which can cause irritation and injury. Short-term results can include eye, nose and throat irritation as well as nausea, headaches and more. Long term usage can result in damage to the kidneys, liver and even the central nervous system. In short, it’s always a good idea to protect yourself and your staff against the risks associated with painting. 

When brushing or rolling any type of paint, there’s a risk of VOC exposure (as we briefly touched upon already, some paints give off a higher level of VOCs than others) but when applied by spray, an added particle exposure risk is created. It’s a wise idea in all cases (and a legal requirement in a professional setting) to use a respirator to protect the user from inhaling chemicals.

Permissible Exposure Limits

Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL), as the name suggests, is the amount of chemicals that can be present at a level still considered safe for operators. Once a workplace exceeds the PEL, they must choose the right protection. This is gauged on an Assigned Protection Factor (APF), each respirator will provide an APF so users can ascertain whether the protection is suitable. If a workplace has a hazardous concentration that’s 100 times the PEL, the PPE must have an APF of 100 or more.

How to control paint shop hazards

By law, spray shops are required to put in place a Local Exhaust Ventilation system (LEV). Such systems are designed to remove VOCs and aerosols away from the user to reduce the chance of them being inhaled. Any exhaust system must be designed well and maintained regularly to ensure it meets appropriate guidelines. And protection doesn’t stop there, respiratory protection is strongly advised for all users. If a ventilation system is not in place then respiratory controls are imperative. 

What respiratory equipment should I use in a paint shop?

The right type of respiratory equipment depends on the paint type, its contaminants and the airborne concentrations. Equipment types can vary from air purifying respirators which aim to disperse the contaminants to safe levels right the way through to supplied air systems that consist of fitted masks with their own oxygen supply system. When making a choice of which respiratory protection is most suitable, employers and shop owners must consider their Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL).

Disposable respirator face masks

The lowest form of protection is a disposable respirator face mask. Designed for aerosols, these simple face masks feature carbon filters that work with nuisance level of organic vapours that are less than the occupational exposure limit or PEL. It’s good practice for anyone working with paint to wear one of these to protect against harm.

Reusable respirators

Reusable respirators such as the 3M 6000 Series Full Face Respirators include a tight fitting facepiece featuring a gas or vapour filter cartridge and are designed to protect against organic gasses and vapours such as water and solvent-based paints (they also work well for potentially hazardous adhesives or cleaning detergents). The filters will wear out over time so it’s important that strict schedules are set and adhered to. The 3M series is tested and approved and complies with all European standards.  

Powered Air Purifying Respirators

Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) such as the 3M M-207 Respiratory Helmet with the 3M Versaflow Kit offer high levels of respiratory protection and are suitable for use in most paints booths and shops. They feature filters that must be updated when necessary to ensure they retain full efficacy. PAPR’s offer a high level of respiratory protection with Assigned Protection Factors (APF) up to 1000. PAPR’s are used in a wide range of painting applications.

Supplied Air Respirators

The highest form of protection a user can have is a Supplied Air Respirator such as the Devilbiss PROV 650 Air Fed Respirator Kit and the Anest Iwata 2020 Full Face Airfed Mask Kit. They work by gently dispersing air into the helmet with no misting or discomfort. These heavy-duty systems feature a coalescing filter which filters air down to 0.01 microns. Most SARs have a similar rate of protection to the PAPR and are used primarily for solvent-based paints. 

The final word

If a paint shop exceeds safe limits then it’s vital that PPE is worn. Whichever filter or system a paint shop uses, it must also adhere to all other COSHH regulations such as written SOPs, fit testing, medical evaluation and more.

For more information and to be sure that you’re compliant, please refer to COSHH OCE3.

If you’re still unsure what you require or want more information before making an investment then don’t hesitate to contact our sales team on 01452 525757, or fill out the form below and we can discuss your specific requirements and can also arrange on site demonstrations if needed ensuring you have complete peace of mind that you made the correct choice.

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