08 Gezondheids- en werkplekaspecten
 >  Dust-free treatment of paints & coatings
Discussion > Discuss this with your colleagues!
  • I am concerned about chromium-6. The media has recently devoted a lot of attention to exposure to chromium-6.
  • There are contractors who no longer perform a chromium-6 analysis; how is that possible?
  • Is it possible for me to be exposed to hazardous substances when I work on paints and coatings?

Paints and coatings

Paints and coatings contain substances that can be harmful to people to a greater or lesser extent. These substances are added to provide certain properties that determine the product’s quality.

Substances that potentially can be harmful include: binding agents, solvents and thinners, pigments, fillers, and some additives and heavy metals such as chromium-6, lead, cadmium, zinc, etc. Most of these substances are harmful on contact with the body, for example the skin, or through inhalation of contaminants in the air.

The reasons why the above-mentioned substances are used include:

  • Provide extra toughness and protect materials such as construction materials (chromium-6 specifically protects against rust).

Some of these compounds are considered hazardous (carcinogenic) and exposure therefore needs to be prevented.

There is a risk of exposure as soon as paints/coatings are worked on. The health risk increases due to the degree (the concentration of chromium-6) and the duration of exposure (the dose absorbed by a person). The risk of exposure furthermore is dependent on a number of factors, including:

  • The quantity of particulate matter/substances released;
  • The quantity of other gases or vapours that are released.

We would like to briefly focus on two substances here, namely chromium-6 and lead.

What is chromium-6?

Chromium-6 is a metal. Our food contains chromium-3, which is harmless. By contrast, chromium-6 is harmful to health. Due to its useful properties, such as rust resistance, chromium-6 is added to various products. Chromium-6 easily adheres to metals and is incorporated into various materials, such as paint, wood, plastic and metal. As a covering layer or ingredient of building materials, it provides additional toughness and protection against corrosion.

Why is chromium-6 harmful?

Chromium-6 is a harmful substance that after exposure, over time can result in serious health damage in the form of cancer or an adverse impact on reproduction. Chromium-6 can also cause allergic reactions, such as asthma and contact eczema. In addition, chromium-6 is harmful to the environment.

What is lead?

Lead is a metal. Lead is a blue-grey, bendable and conductive metal. Lead carbonate was used in paint, but also as a decorative element on wallpaper. In homes and buildings, lead is used to seal cracks (lead slabs) and in stained-glass windows. In chargeable batteries and other batteries, lead is used as an electrode. In electronics, connections are soldered using lead with tin, and sometimes silver.

Why is lead harmful?

Long-term exposure to lead and lead compounds can cause brain damage and this cann, for example, result in dementia. It can also result in a wide range of developmental disorders, particularly among children. This expresses itself in a lower IQ and an increased chance of criminal behaviour at a later age. The use of lead for drinking water pipelines and for soldering drinking water pipelines is no longer permitted.

Lead and lead compounds, such as combustion products made from leaded gasoline, have a harmful effect on the brain.

Non-volatile substances or heavy metals can end up in the body in three ways:

  • Swallowing (stomach);
  • Inhalation (lungs); or
  • Through the skin.

A determining factor in whether someone will become sick is primarily related to the duration (in time) and the degree of exposure (lots or little). The probability that you will become sick following one-off/short-term exposure to heavy metals is negligible.

Where do we encounter it?

  • Pigment in paints;
  • Anti-corrosion coatings;
  • Stainless steel and other chromium alloys;
  • Wood preservatives;
  • Cement.

These products are generally processed in coatings that are applied to, for example:

  • Civil works (bridges, locks and weirs);
  • Buildings (to various structural components, such as steel and wood);
  • Air ducts and pipelines (installation components);
  • Street furniture and lampposts;
  • Fencing;
  • High voltage masts;
  • Defence material;
  • Aircraft;
  • Trains;
  • Ships and submarines.

In fixed form it is not harmful. But it can be harmful when particles end up in the air.

Risks > What can happen?

During treatments, particles and to a lesser extent vapours can be released. Treatments, among other things, include sanding, welding, cutting and shotblasting. Particles or vapours can also be released while welding or cutting stainless steel.

You can get particles in your body through inhaling, swallowing and through contact with the skin.

  • Emergence of direct (acute) complaints, such as: nasal irritations, coughing, itching and a burning sensation;
  • If you frequently ingest particles, chronic conditions may emerge, such as lung cancer, nasal and nasopharyngeal cancer, stomach cancer, laryngeal cancer and respiratory allergies, including asthma and nasal mucous membrane inflammation (rhinitis); Other potential disorders include chronic pulmonary diseases, such as COPD, perforation of the nasal septum due to chromium ulcers and allergic contact eczema;
  • Brain damage such as dementia.

Whether you will become sick because of exposure due to treatments involving paints and coatings, depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • The level of exposure;
  • The duration of the exposure;
  • The method of contact: through the skin (wet or dry skin), inhalation or swallowing;
  • Lifestyle and personal sensitivity.

If you have any doubts about your health or you were or are being exposed, contact your manager or the company doctor.

Measures > how do you know if any hazardous substances are present?

When a surface or an object is to be treated, there is a chance that the covering layer is contaminated. To determine whether chromium-6 or other hazardous substances are present, it is possible to conduct an analysis. This is not mandatory. Determining the presence of chromium-6 and other harmful substances in paint or coatings is very difficult and not always reliable. In other words, not all customers will conduct an analysis in advance. They assume that the object’s coating contains harmful substances, and that these objects therefore must be handled as such.

The Management Regime 2.0 was drawn up in collaboration with the National Water Management Authority (RWS), the Central Government Real Estate Agency (RVB) and ProRail. The Labour Inspectorate has approved it. This regime includes a matrix that contains a description of the Occupational health and safety (Arbo) measures with respect to all known activities involving paint and coatings (see link at the bottom of this toolbox).

The measures required to be implemented for a job must be clearly set out in the H&S Plan.

Measures > What you must do

You are obliged to implement measures to avoid contact with dust. RWS, RVB and ProRail have developed a Management Regime for chromium-6 and other dangerous substances (version 2.0). This regime describes measures to prevent exposure to inhalable dust that may contain chromium-6, lead or other dangerous substances, while treating or removing paints/coatings. The prior regime was further developed and substantiated with the help of measurements. Based on the results of a number of these measurements, the prescribed measures were adjusted. In virtually all cases this concerns a scaling down of the package of measures. The regime is public and can be used by anyone professionally involved in treating or removing coatings and paints.

Brief overview of control measures

Basic hygiene:

  • Wash your hands before smoking, eating and/or drinking and before and after a visit to the toilet;
  • Do not smoke, eat and/or drink while working;
  • Implement measures designed to prevent dust formation.

Prior to starting the work:

  • Wear an overall that fully covers the arms and legs;
  • Always wear gloves to protect your skin;
  • Wear safety glasses.
  • If it is impossible to prevent dust formation:
  • Wear a closely fitting valved face mask (P3 filter), or a half-face mask with a P3 filter cartridge. Naturally, an overpressure mask or hood also is a possibility, depending on the situation.
  • Fence off the work area to prevent unwanted visitors.

Extra measures that must be implemented depending on the situation (always discuss this with the safety officer or the occupational hygienist).

  • Wear a specific overall (possibly fire-retardant and anti-static), in other words the standard overall included in our clothing package. On the basis of the work to be performed and the amount of dust that may be generated, a type 5/6 disposable overall may be mandatory.
  • Use dependent or independent respiratory protection (in consultation with safety department).
  • If necessary, follow up with a decontamination procedure.

If the work permits it, preferably perform the work without a break. In case of break or unplanned visit to the toilet:

  1. When removing clothing, keep respiratory protection on and remove it as the last item!
  2. On leaving the area/workspace, remove overwear, such as disposable overall, gloves, overshoes and (disposable) mask (if applicable) that may have come into contact with dust. Store and remove this separately as chemical waste. Have normal overall washed.
  3. Wash your face and hands before eating and/or drinking (incl smoking) and before and after a visit to the toilet.
Other measures

Other general measures

  • Supervise the work to ensure it is carried out correctly;
  • Prevent dust!
  • Arrange for the maintenance of exhaust systems and other equipment;
  • Use an industrial vacuum cleaner with HEPA filter for cleaning, or use wet cleaning;
  • Prohibit the use of compressed air during cleaning activities;
  • Make arrangements for the responsible removal of waste. This should also include vacuum cleaner filters and bags;
  • Depending on the situation it may also be necessary to record the employees present: coordinate this with the safety department;
  • If necessary, in consultation with the company doctor offer employees an occupational health examination.
Tips > Interested in additional information?

Extra INFO:

  • About chromium-6: Chromium-6 | Occupational Health & Safety (Arbo) Portal
  • For more information about respiratory protection, check out the Respiratory Protection toolbox.
  • For the Chromium-6 Management Regime, check out the Management regime for chromium-6 and other dangerous substances (version 2) | Publication | Occupational Health & Safety Portal

In case of doubt, always consult the Safety department. They can help you.

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