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Staying safe on the job

Staying safe on the job Posted on 14 August 2023

Paintbrushes falling from a stepladder.

Here are five top tips for keeping yourself and others safe while working.

Are you concerned about the potential risks of an upcoming painting and decorating job? As with any trade, it’s a good idea to brush up on your knowledge (see what we did there?) before tackling a new project – whether you’re a newcomer to the industry or a seasoned veteran. This is especially true for jobs that might form a smaller part of your repertoire. So, before you get started on your next project, big or small, it’s important to prepare relevant safety checks.

Did you know that between 2020 and 2021, 30 per cent of workplace injuries were from slips, trips or falls. Many of these injuries pose a higher risk to painters and decorators due to the nature of the job.

Here, the decorating experts at Hamilton cover five key safety points, so you can pick up your brush with confidence, whether you’re starting out in your painting and decorating career or you fancy a refresher.

1: Check your equipment

It’s important your equipment is up to scratch before starting a job, regardless of scale. Defective equipment is inefficient, costly and dangerous. Ladders and stepladders need to be inspected and replaced if showing signs of damage. Check the rungs and the rubber feet/levellers for damage or wear.

If you are working on scaffolding or a cherry picker, make sure you check everything before you even get a paintbrush in your hand.

Electrical equipment should be checked regularly for signs of damage or wear. PAT test on an annual basis and always treat the equipment with care. Chucking expensive power tools in the back of the van could damage them and lead to an accident.

2: Learn fire procedures

It’s important to have an effective fire plan that covers evacuation and prevention, regardless of whether you’re decorating a commercial or residential space. Make yourself and your team aware of exits and safe routes from the building.

Over the last year (ending March 2023), a 17 per cent increase in fire-related accidents was reported in England. That’s 178,737 fires compared to the previous year of 152,639. For the last three years, we have seen a consistent rise in incidents of fires, so it’s time to squash that curve.

Here are a few useful tips to avoid a fire-related accident at work:

  • No smoking or vaping on site
  • Keep your workspace tidy – loose wallpaper and cuttings are prime kindling for electrical fires
  • Dispose of waste – flammable materials must be disposed of correctly
  • Shut fire doors – ensure fire doors are securely shut to contain any fires
  • Plan an escape route – direct escape routes should be planned with colleagues and clients, exits should also remain clear at all times
  • Unplug electrical equipment when not in use.

Carry out a risk assessment – this is useful to detect any workplace hazard, but in the case of a fire, make sure you audit fire alarms, extinguishers, and signage (if applicable).

3: Ventilate your workspace

Always make your workspace has good airflow. Proper ventilation helps reduce the risk of dizziness, nausea or sinus discomfort caused by inhaling fumes. This is especially dangerous when using a stepladder as dizziness can affect your balance. Dizziness from a high position with a less stable footing can be a precarious combination, so it’s important to minimise the risk as best as you can.

If natural ventilation from open windows isn’t enough, consider using a portable ventilator or extractor fan. For example, if you’re painting a kitchen, the cooker range hood can help to extract harmful chemicals from the air. Every little helps with room ventilation as it can take between 14–24 weeks for fumes to completely dissipate and return a room to its natural air quality.

Don’t panic, it’s still safe for customers to sleep in rooms without irritation to the sinuses after 24 hours of being painted – ample time for the room to dry. However, it’s still useful to bear in mind how long it can take to fully ventilate a room from start to finish. Taking precautions during the painting process will accelerate this for your customers.

Consider using water-based paints to reduce fumes.

4: Clean up

Keeping both yourself and your project workspace clean can be difficult when decorating – mucking in is part and parcel of the trade. However, it’s important to organise areas of mess to reduce the number of hazards in your vicinity.

This is just as true regarding your own hygiene, especially when it comes to washing hands. A build-up of corrosive material can damage the skin if left for a prolonged period and the risk is multiplied if ingested. It’s best to make sure you wash your hands before lunch and at regular break intervals. Think about wearing latex protective gloves or a barrier cream if you have sensitive skin. But you will still need to wash your hands before eating.

If you’ve finished stripping a wall, remove the residual material from the workspace immediately to eliminate further trip hazards. Additionally, use sturdy paint kettles rather than open cans for further stability while working. An organised workspace is a safe workspace.

5: Practice safe work ergonomics

Don’t push yourself too hard on a job. When you are rushing to meet a deadline you might forget to take a break and this could lead to an accident.

The basics of work safety ergonomics include:

  • rotating tasks to reduce muscle strain
  • going on regular breaks
  • using proper lifting techniques
  • adjusting work heights with stepladders to avoid overreaching.

This comprehensive manual on workplace ergonomics outlines more of the potential risks caused by poor ergonomic practices. The best way to learn how to improve your safe work practices is by identifying areas of risk and implementing simple solutions. Are you overreaching to paint a ceiling? Use a stepladder to reduce back and arm strain. Finding yourself becoming dizzy from fatigue or fumes? Get a glass of water and take a short break and some fresh air. When it comes to work, always put your health first.

Thanks to Hamilton for the research.