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Surface Treatment

Designers Knowledge Base

Includes tiling, plaster, rendering, screeds and decorative coatings of all sorts.

Any external or internal surface treatment or finish may give rise to a health and safety issue by virtue of the material to be applied or the method of working required to achieve a specific finish.


When specifying surface finishes the designer should be aware of, and assess the risks from, the following principal hazards. It is important that, where these risks cannot be eliminated or reduced during the design process and they are perceived as 'significant risks', details of them are passed to the principal contractor. The prospective principal contractors must outline the control measures proposed in respect of these 'significant hazards'. When a tender is accepted and the project reaches the construction phase the principal contractor must control the hazards and risks as outlined in his construction phase plan.

Hazards and risks

  • Health hazards caused by dust released by cement, plaster etc. and fumes released by solvents, resins and glues
  • Fire hazards caused by high combustibility of some materials and substances
  • Hazards of access to heights or confined spaces
  • Manual handling hazards caused by the transport, storage and mixing of bulky, heavy materials and substances
  • Hazardous substances such as mineral fibres, silica dust etc.
  • Hazards arising from the method of application such as spraying or the use of pressure equipment


  • During the design process the handling and storage, methods of mixing and method of application should be considered together with access to the place of application and the fire and ventilation precautions that may be needed.

Possible design options for hazard reduction

  • is it possible to use a different, less hazardous finish with similar properties?
  • consider where the sequence of construction may give rise to situations of unacceptable hazard such as confined spaces and solvent release or working in unacceptable weather
  • allow sufficient space for operations and maintenance
  • can pre-treatment be avoided without loss of performance?
  • specify ready-mixed or blended substances wherever possible
  • specify water-based products wherever possible
  • consider modification of the working sequence to allow for better access or control of the working environment

Relevant Legislation