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How to treat lead paint found in a commercial building

Brendan Childs |   April 30, 2019 at 10:26 AM

How to treat lead paint found in a commercial building

So, you've discovered lead paint in your commercial property. What are your next steps?

Let's rewind for a moment. Before 1970, lead paint was commonly used in Australia. There are millions of buildings built pre-1970, and the vast majority of these contain lead paint. Exposure to even small amounts of lead paint dust or chips is a serious health risk.

After 1970 the amount of lead allowed in paint dropped to 1% (as opposed to 50% pre-1970) which is still a significant amount of lead. Over the years, this figure has fallen to the current 0.1% and 0.2% for zinc-based paints. This minuscule percentage is considered a trace amount and not hazardous to health.

Common lead paint hotspots

Lead paint is most likely to be found on doors, skirting boards, window frames, cupboards, exterior walls, gutters, fascias and other surfaces. Interior walls, ceilings and areas coated with enamel (like balustrades) can also be affected. Both pink and red primer also contained lead pre-1970.

Lead paint is dangerous when disturbed and shouldn't be removed or treated by anyone aside from a professional. Paint dust, flakes and fumes disturbed by normal wear and tear or by removal processes like sanding are significant contributors to lead poisoning.

The common symptoms of lead poisoning

Common symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal cramps and constipation
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • fitting
  • muscle weakness or paralysis

Lead poisoning is dangerous and should be treated with the utmost caution. If you suspect that you or someone you know has been exposed to lead, visit a doctor for further advice.

Why lead paint is hazardous to remove

Lead paint in good condition and when not being disturbed is fine, but when removed or treated  becomes hazardous. Removal is usually undertaken by blasting, burning, dry scraping, dry sanding or using power tools. These steps create small particles which can then be inhaled by those close by. Particles can also land on flooring, furnishings or elsewhere nearby where they can later be disturbed and inhaled. Complete removal is difficult and dangerous.

How to best remove the lead paint risk

Removing lead paint is not a DIY job; it's best to call in the professionals. The removal process is complicated and can pose serious risks if it’s not done using the right methods and safety equipment. The proper disposal of contaminated waste is also important to ensure complete removal.

If lead paint is poorly removed or cleaned up, traces can be left behind in building structures or in the soil leading to danger down the line.

There’s an Australian Standard (AS 4361.2 Guide to Lead Paint Management; Part 2 residential, public and commercial buildings) solely written to ensure the safe management and removal of lead paint. A professional painting contractor will be aware of this and have processes in place which fulfil the Standard obligations.

Higgins lead abatement is a process of safely reducing lead paint hazards. Depending on the project this includes paint removal or encapsulation, whereby hazardous coatings are sealed with specialised coatings.

As a facilities manager, you regularly work with outsourced professionals for painting and maintenance work. However, when working with others on your site, you need to consider WHS regulations.

Lead paint removal or treatment isn't the time to cut corners, so make sure you know how to spot red flags, understand your WHS obligations and the other essentials need-to-knows with our free guide.

Get your WHS guide and checklist

Higgins Coatings is Australia's premier commercial painting contractor with over 70 years of experience in providing cost-effective painting and tailored maintenance solutions to a broad range of industries including hospitals, aged care, schools, and strata. If you need quality painting services delivered on time and within budget, contact us today for a consultation.