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For professional painters, the health and safety risks can't be ignored

Painting is a critical part of many residential, commercial and industrials projects. There are upsides to earning a living as a painter: It doesn't require expensive schooling, it offers the flexibility of being your own boss, and there's generally no shortage of work.

Yet it also comes with downsides. As a physically demanding job, painting can take a toll on the body over time. There's also a constant risk of getting injured. In fact, construction and maintenance painters have one of the highest injury rates among any profession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Painters face a number of health and safety risks, including:

  • Exposure to toxic fumes: Many paints, varnishes and solvents have high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Inhaling these toxic fumes can lead to neurological problems (such as "painter's dementia"), asthma, cancer, fertility problems and other health issues.
  • Dust inhalation: Painters who work in construction sites may be exposed to dust from sanding, drywall installation and other work, which can lead to asthma as well as respiratory and sinus problems.
  • Cancer: According to recent research, professional painters have a 20 percent higher overall risk of cancer and a 30 percent higher risk of bladder cancer.
  • Back and neck injuries: Painting involves kneeling, bending, reaching and lifting. Such tiring work can lead to chronic injuries, especially in the back and neck.
  • Accidents: Painters often work on scaffolding and ladders, which means a higher risk of falls. Additionally, they face the same hazards as other construction workers, such as exposure to damaging noise levels and dangerous machinery.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk of health problems - for example, by using:

  • Respirator masks
  • Adequate ventilation
  • Fall protection
  • Water-based paints (acrylics) or "eco-friendly" paints with lower VOC levels

And for painters who are unfortunate enough to suffer work-related injuries or illness, the law may provide a path to getting compensation through a workers' compensation and/or personal injury claim.

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