ASWS leading the way on lead

Associated Steel Window Services (ASWS) looks at the continuing health threat posed by a class of paint banned for the past 30 years, and how one London based metal window specialist has learned to deal with it.

Commercial property companies and the construction industry are fully experienced now in the measures which must be taken to counter the threat posed by asbestos in its many forms, but our older properties still contain other potentially dangerous substances with one in particular hiding in plain sight. 

The use of lead paint was banned back in 1990, yet it is not a notifiable issue. The removal can be just as challenging as the medical conditions linked to the mineral fibres are still claiming thousands of lives each year.

Director of ASWS, Kris Bennell, commented, “There is a temptation for people to think lead paint is very much a problem of the past, but because it is tricky to remove safely – and like asbestos, it presents a far lower risk as long as it remains undisturbed – there has been a tendency in the industry to just apply new coats of paint over the top.  Therefore, if lead paint is present, it is likely to be the bottom one or two coats, which means there remains the risk that if the surface is impacted by trolleys or other hard objects, then small fragments or dust can be inhaled and cause serious illness.”

As a highly experienced contractor that takes risk assessment seriously across its activities, ASWS always recommends a lead paint analysis to clients as part of its survey procedures, addressing the façade and inner surfaces such as columns and handrails, as well as the fenestration.  The paint samples, which are taken all the way back to the substrate material, are referred to a laboratory, where any result above 1.0% Lead percentage by mass (Pb) requires precautions to be taken, as per the HSE Control of Lead at Work Regulations.

Kris Bennell continued, “Any actions which turn lead paint into dust or involves heating it up are potentially dangerous in terms of breathing problems, or even causing heavy metal poisoning, which is an irreversible condition.  This should not be cause for undue consternation, as it is controllable, but requires correct use of RPE (Respiratory PPE) together with barriers to protect the public or other workers and selection of the appropriate removal method.”

“The options include grit blasting which can be noisy, must be controlled by tenting or exclusion zones and requires the provision of showers allocated just to the operatives involved.  The other alternatives are using handheld chipping and scraping tools or there is chemical removal process.”

“As we did recently on a large project in London’s Dover Street, you apply a water based alkaline paste to windows or other surfaces, which must remain for 24 to 72 hours before being scraped off. Not only is the paint retained within the ‘poultice’, but it converts any lead present into a compound that can be safely disposed of without endangering the environment.”

Kris Bennell concluded, “Dealing with lead paint in old buildings is actually a growing industry and an area of work where we have built a very flexible capability.  We can offer grit-blasting in-situ or at our premises, as well as removal by chipping or chemical poultice, dependant on the lead content levels.  Ultimately though, lead paint is not a prohibitive problem, it is a management process.”

ASWS is a long-established member of the Steel Window Association and well recognised expert in the repair of metal windows, from the earliest wrought iron examples through to contemporary curtain walling.  The family run business is frequently called upon to prepare condition surveys during the appraisal stages of a project, which then become part of the planning or listed building permission process.  The company also maintains a very large stock of ironmongery and metal frame components to assist in its restoration work.  

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