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Spray painting

Spray painting is the process where a liquid coating substance, usually paint, is changed into a mist or aerosol, in order to apply a coating onto an object or surface.

There are several different ways spray painting can be performed.

Most spray painting is performed with the use of a spray gun. Spray guns use either a turbine or compressor to supply tiny particles of air. A volume of air flow with low pressure is used to form to reduce the coating to fine spray.

Air Assisted Airless spray guns use air and fluid pressure to achieve atomization of the coating. Airless spray guns are operated by being connected to a high pressure pump which forces the paint out of the nozzle.

Electrostatic spray guns have electrically charged nozzles. The droplets of paint are electrically charged which causes them to be attracted to the edges and back of the piece of work. Direct current sources are used for hand guns with safe nozzles carrying a very low current at high voltage. Automatic guns carry higher currents and are potentially lethal.

Spray painting can be performed in a spray painting booth, inside temporary erected enclosed outdoor sites, or open sites such as bridges, buildings, boats or mobile plant.

Hazards associated with spray painting

General hazards associated with spray painting involve manual handling, working in confined spaces, working at heights, slips, trips and falls, vibration, heat, risk management process and risk assessment process.

Hazards associated with spray painting involve exposure to hazardous substances through either inhaling of vapours, injection of paint or skin contact, fire and explosion, electricity, plant and noise.

In general, substances viewed as hazardous with spray painting are:

  • paints
  • solvents
  • lead
  • powders
  • lacquers
  • paint removers
  • resins
  • adhesives
  • degreasers
  • surface preparation products
  • rust converters
  • rust removers
  • dust

Potential health effects of spray painting

Short term health effects that spray painting can cause are irritation contact dermatitis, burns to the skin and eyes, vomiting and diarrhoea, irritation to the nose, throat and lungs, headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue.

Long term health effect that can result from spray painting are occupational asthma, allergic contact dermatitis, lung cancer, ‘painter’s syndrome’ which is prolonged inhalation of paints and solvents resulting in brain damage, damage to the reproductive system and kidney or liver damage.

Short term health effects from inhalation and injection of spray painting are respiratory tract irritation, shortness of breath, dizziness, influenza-like symptoms, tightness of the chest, nausea and headaches.

Long term health effects from inhalation and injection of spray painting are cancer, sensitisation of respiratory systems, asthma, abnormal reduction in lung function, emphysema and central nervous system dysfunction.

Injection injury caused by spray painting can result in lack of blood supply to the area as well as chemical or thermal burns.

Noise can result in damaging a person’s hearing. Other health effects are temporary threshold shift, noise induced hearing loss, tinnitus, acoustic trauma, increased heart rate and blood pressure, headache, irritability, nausea, insomnia, reduced concentration and depression. Damage to a person’s hearing cannot be cured.

Manual tasks can result in strains, sprains, fractures, dislocations, bruises and overuse injuries. Slips, trips and falls can cause injuries to arms, legs and head.

Working in confined spaces can result in burns, electrocution, suffocation, poisoning, brain damage, death and crush injuries.

Prolonged use of equipment for spray painting can result in Reynaud’s Syndrome or white finger (dead finger) syndrome due to vibration from the equipment. Reynaud’s Syndrome is caused by persistent microscopic damage to nerves and blood capillaries.

When a person is subjected to heat, it can result in heat stress, discomfort, irritability, dehydration, reduced concentration, rashes, reduced tolerance to chemicals and noise, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Employers Duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 (the Act) employers are required to provide and maintain, as far as practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to health.

To ensure that risks are managed in accordance with the duties under the Act, employers should systematically manage the risks to health and safety which arise from spray painting.

Employers can systematically manage risks by undertaking the following four-step risk management process:

1. identify the hazard
2. assess the risk associated with the hazard
3. control the risk
4. review the process

When undertaking risk management, employers must follow the relevant Commonwealth regulations and give consideration to codes of practice. If no regulation or code exist in relation to a specific identified risk employers should choose a reliable source of guidance to follow.

Relevant Commonwealth Regulations

Occupational Health and Safety (Safety Standards) Regulations 1994, in particular:

  • Part 3: Occupational Noise
  • Part 4: Plant
  • Part 5: Manual Handling
  • Part 6: Hazardous Substances
  • Part 7: Confined Spaces

Relevant Commonwealth Codes of Practice

In particular, the Occupational Health and Safety Code of Practice 2008:

  • Part 1 - Risk management
  • Part 3 - Noise
  • Part 5 - Vibration
  • Part 7 - Confined Spaces
  • Part 12 - Hazardous Substances 
  • Part 14 - Carcinogenic Substances
  • Part 21 - Spray Painting

Relevant Guidance Material

National Guidance Material for Spray Painting – Australian Safety and Compensation Council 

Further information

For further information about this fact sheet, or others in the series, please contact Comcare on the general enquiry line 1300 366 979 or by email

Page last updated: 20 Mar 2014