How to Work Safely With Lead-Based Paint

Lead paint has a rich history in Australia. Before 1970, paints with high levels of lead were commonly used in many Australian houses. However, lead is a toxic substance that can be harmful when ingested or inhaled. Even low levels of lead exposure can have severe health effects, especially for children and pregnant women. 

As an apprentice painter and decorator, it’s crucial to understand the risks when working with lead paint and take appropriate safety measures. Take note that lead in house paint is only a problem if it is damaged, disturbed or deteriorating. Paint in good condition, not flaking or chalking, and covered by well-maintained lead-free paint is not a hazard on its own. When present on surfaces subject to friction or impact, such as railings that children can chew on, lead can also pose a risk.

Here is a quick guide for apprentice painters and decorators on how to work safely with lead paint and ensure a safer working environment.

Identify and Test for Lead Paints

Spotting lead paint isn’t always straightforward, but there are clues to look out for. In older buildings, lead paint may have a thick, chalky texture and colours like white, grey or brown. However, visual identification alone is not enough. 

If you are an apprentice painter and decorator, it’s recommended to use a lead test kit or consult professionals who can perform accurate lead paint testing. Testing ensures certainty and helps you determine the appropriate safety measures to take while working with lead paint.

Prepare for Lead Paint Work

Before starting any work involving lead paint, prepare yourself and the work environment. An apprentice painter should always wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as coveralls, gloves, goggles and a respiratory mask designed for lead protection. These items create a barrier between you and the lead particles, minimising the risk of exposure. 

Additionally, make sure to create a safe workspace by sealing off the area using plastic sheets and tape. This helps contain dust and debris, preventing it from spreading to other parts of the building.

Safe Practices During Lead Paint Work

If the paint is in good condition, you may not need to be removed it unless you’re planning major renovations. However, it’s important to remove lead-based paint from areas that children might chew or lick, or where there’s frequent friction or impact.

Some safe lead removal methods are:

Wet scraping or sanding

Use wet scraping or sanding techniques to minimise the generation of lead dust. Mist the surface with water and carefully scrape or sand while keeping it moist. These methods keep the lead particles from becoming airborne and are highly effective in reducing the risk of inhalation or ingestion. 

Chemical stripping

Consider using lead-specific chemical stripping products that are designed to safely remove lead-based paint. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Encapsulation

Encapsulate lead-based paint by applying a specially formulated encapsulating primer or coating. This creates a barrier that seals in the lead and prevents its release.

Professional lead removal

For larger or complex projects, it’s advisable to hire professionals certified in lead paint removal. They have the expertise and equipment to safely handle and dispose of lead-contaminated materials.

When working with lead paints, an apprentice painter should also consider proper containment and safe practices to minimise exposure. Plastic barriers should be used to isolate the work area and prevent dust and particles from escaping.

Other safe practices during lead paintwork are:

  • Take regular breaks to minimise continuous exposure. 
  • Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating, drinking or touching your face. This helps prevent accidental ingestion of lead particles.
  • After completing lead paintwork, Australian painters must change their work clothes and wash them separately to avoid cross-contamination. Showering and washing your hair can help remove any lead particles that may have come in contact with your body.
  • Avoid eating, drinking or storing food and beverages in the work area to prevent accidental ingestion of lead dust or particles.

Clean-up and Decontamination

After completing any work involving lead paint, clean up and decontaminate the area properly. Dispose of any waste materials, such as debris, wipes or plastic sheeting, in accordance with local regulations for hazardous waste. Double-bagging the waste and labelling it appropriately ensures it is handled and disposed of safely.

Master Painters Australia: Supporting Painters and Decorators in NSW and ACT

Working safely with lead paints is of utmost importance for painters and decorators. When you understand the risks associated with lead exposure and consider safe practices, you can protect yourself, your clients and the environment. 

Training and education play a crucial role in ensuring that you stay updated with the latest knowledge and best practices in lead paint safety. By continuously learning and improving your skills, you can work more confidently and safely, providing high-quality services to your clients.

At Master Painters Australia, we are here to support painters and decorators in NSW and ACT. If you want to gain valuable experience and knowledge as an apprentice painter and decorator, join our Group Training Company Our program offers on-the-job training, allowing you to earn an income while learning new skills. We will assist you in finding a host trainer and guide you through the apprenticeship process. Our experienced Master Painters will also provide support and advice every step of the way.

Contact us for more details.