18th Aug 2021

Even though lead was removed from all decorative paints in the UK by the early 1980’s, lead paint is still an issue that every professional painter and decorator is likely to encounter. If painting and decorating a pre-1980’s built property, it is important to use a lead test kit to check if lead is present and having the correct knowledge to safely deal with this situation is vital to protect your own health and that of the general public.

The Dangers of Lead

Lead is highly hazardous to health and continued exposure can cause serious problems such as kidney damage, nerve and brain damage and even infertility. Lead can be breathed in as fumes, vapour or dust or it can contaminate food and drinking water and therefore ingested.

Initial symptoms of lead poisoning can include the following:

  • Loss of weight
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Anaemia
  • Stomach pains
  • Constipation
  • Nausea

If working on a job where there is exposure to lead, then it is important that you contact your GP or medical professional immediately if any of the above symptoms occur.

Removal and Redecoration of Lead Painted Surfaces

If the surface is in good condition, then the safest course of action is to cover it with modern water-based paint. Attempting to remove lead paint which is in otherwise good condition may increase the risk to health as there is more chance of inhaling or ingesting dust or particles containing lead than there would be if the surface were left undisturbed.

If the surface is not in good condition and full removal is required, then it is important that these safety steps are followed:

  1. Ensure that anyone not involved in the work is removed from the area, or preferably the whole building until the job is completed and thoroughly cleaned. Inform everyone in the premises of the nature of the work that is being carried out.
  2. Do not eat, smoke or drink within the work area.
  3. Ideally remove, or if this is not possible then cover soft furnishings and flooring with plastic sheeting sealed with heavy duty tape.
  4. Wear the correct safety equipment, including overalls a particulate filter face mask and rubber or latex gloves within the work area.
  5. If the area requires sanding and scraping down, use waterproof sandpaper and do this wet to avoid creating dust. By keeping the surface wet, the risks of lead-containing dust being created are minimised (a suitable mask should still be worn)
  6. If using a paint stripper ensure all directions on the container are carefully followed.

Clean Up and Disposal

After preparation, wash down all surfaces thoroughly and then vacuum, ensuring the vacuum you use has a HEPA filter. Carefully place all debris including cloths masks and filters in a heavy duty plastic bag and seal. The waste must be disposed of as hazardous waste by an approved hazardous waste disposal service.

To read our other how to guide on how to dispose of paint correctly click here.

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