There are a variety of workplace contaminants associated with industrial coatings present in the workplace. In most cases, the proper selection of personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial to preventing exposure to these variety of contaminants. These protective PPE and storage precautions related to industrial coatings can protect against respiratory, skin, and fire/explosive hazards.


Types of industrial coatings

In the liquid industrial coating world, there are two main categories: water-based and solvent-based coatings. For each type of coating, there are different hazards that arise. Variation in the amount of VOCs present in these types of coatings is one of the main factors. 

Water-based paints generally have a low amount of VOCs. On the other hand, solvent-based paints contain a higher level of organic solvents including xylene, ethyl acetate, and more. When compared, the lower amount of VOCs in water-based paint pose less of a respiratory and skin hazard when handled properly.


Respiratory risks

The type of paint used and how it was applied determines the respiratory risk of the operator. Regardless of application method, exposure to gases and vapors (VOCs) accompany water and solvent based coatings. When paint is applied by spray, an aerosol and VOC exposure risk is present. To control this exposure, a cartridge or filter capable of filtering aerosol and VOCs may be needed to mitigate exposure risk. Furthermore, due to the use of organic solvents and clean-up solvents such as mineral spirits, solvent-based coatings can cause severe respiratory hazard. Lastly, when working with solvent-based coatings, the presence of isocyanates must be taken into consideration. Isocyanates, which are a chemical compound found in solvent-based paint, can cause serious health issues. These effects include difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and skin irritation.

When it comes to preventative measures, there are many ways to combat respiratory hazards. One of the first ways to limit this exposure is with local exhaust ventilation. These systems, such as a downdraft system, along with their primary use, are designed to remove VOCs and aerosols from the operator’s breathing zone. Personal respiratory protection is also a necessary measure to prevent the adverse healthy effects that these chemicals cause.

              There are several respirator types used in the industrial coatings industry:

  1. Disposable respirators: These facepiece respirators are often used to combat aerosol exposure. Some disposable options offer a layer of carbon to help reduce exposure to some chemical odors, but it is not enough to combat the chemical exposures that exceed OSHA’s PELs (Permissible Exposure Limits).
  2. Reusable Respirators: These full or half facepiece models can be configured with a gas and vapor cartridge and 95 or 100 class particle filter (N95, R95, P95, P100, etc.) for both water-based and solvent-based paints. Due to diminishing effectiveness over time, there must be a cartridge/filter replacement schedule in place to ensure worker safety. These respirators are very popular in paint applications.
  3. Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs): This type of respirator also uses a cartridge to filter ambient air. These are tight fitting reusable respirators that can include hoods and helmets. Like the reusable respirators, there must be a cartridge replacement plan in place to ensure safety of the user.
  4. Supplied Air Respirators: This type of respirator is commonly used when using solvent-based paint. It may also be configured with either tight fitting headgear or loose-fitting headgear. SAR’s include continuous flow and pressure demand types.


Skin exposure risks

VOCs found in water and solvent-based coatings are known to cause a variety of dangerous side effects when skin contact occurs. One of the immediate side effects of skin exposure to organic solvents is the defatting of the oils in your skin, causing dryness and irritation. If prolonged contact occurs, one may develop allergic skin contact dermatitis. Other organic compounds can be absorbed over time causing kidney, liver, and heart issues. Lastly, protection of skin is critical when spraying polyurethanes. Exposure to this diisocyanate-based paints can cause severe skin and eye irritation.

PPE like coveralls, face shields, eyewear, and chemical resistant gloves can help control exposure to these harmful chemicals. Many options exist in each of these categories that help prevent specific exposures in your workplace. Another practice that is vital to limiting harmful exposure is training. Safe mixing, spraying, and cleaning are common practices that can cause hazardous circumstances if not done properly.


Fire/explosive risks

Due to a lower flash point, solvent-based paints present a higher fire risk than water-based paints. Storage and use areas need to be safe when dealing with solvent-based paint due to its high ignition risk. Furthermore, applying these coatings in a confined space could pose a huge fire hazard. Confined spaces are known to accumulate toxic, flammable, and explosive fumes and dust. In addition, depending on the coating, an explosion can occur in the right conditions when a source of ignition is present.

In your shop, equipment must be designed to isolate these potential ignition risks. Certain PPE, like PAPR’s may also be necessary in some environments. Overall, fire and explosion feasibility must be considered when applying certain coatings.

Mitigating the Risk with PPE

PPE is a necessary tool to ensure the safety of your shop and its employees. When dealing with a variety of coatings and chemicals, it is crucial to research the correct methods and ways to mitigate risk and exposure. Additionally, safety conforming storage of these coatings in your shop is of the utmost importance in limiting harmful side effects of improper storage.



“Industrial Paint Hazards.” 3M, May 2018.

Paint Amigo. “Respirators: Disposable or Reusable?” Paint Amigo, April 27, 2020.

“Safety First, For Industrial Coatings.” Coatings World. Accessed June 8, 2021. coatings/#:~:text=Confined%20spaces%20are%20not%20only,presents%20its%20own%20serious%20risks.&text=Furthermore%2C%20when%20applied%20with%20a,a%20fire%20or%20even%20explode. 

Solutions, Diversitech - Air Pollution. “Health Risks of Industrial Paint Fumes.” Diversitech. Accessed June 8, 2021.