The South African Paint Manufacturing Association (SAPMA) (BCF) represents the manufacturers of 90% of the paint and coatings sold in South Africa and neighboring countries. Consumer safety is of the utmost importance to all SAPMA members, and SAPMA members do not sell lead-containing paint for use on playground equipment.
SAPMA recommends that any paint supplied for use on playground equipment complies with the relevant standards. The responsibility for the safety of playground equipment, however, lies with the suppliers of such equipment as they are the only ones in a position to fully know what has been used in its manufacture.
Whilst there is no specific legislation for coatings on playground equipment, the safety requirements for this are specified by the European standard BS EN 1176. This requires that, amongst other safety aspects, suppliers of playground equipment avoid the use of dangerous substances in such a way that they can cause adverse health effects to the user of the equipment. The standard draws attention to the provisions of the EU dangerous substances legislation and specifically prohibits certain materials, including lead. Therefore, paint containing lead would not be expected to be used on playground equipment supplied in the EU.
It is possible that the equipment has been imported from outside the EU. In such case, the importer, supplying to an EU customer should be expected to ensure that the equipment complies with the standard (i.e. does not contain lead). Toys and playground equipment made to EU standards are world-leading with regards to safety, but the import of already-coated materials, as we have seen before, are often uncontrolled.
Whilst the use of any equipment containing lead should be avoided, the risk needs to be understood. Although lead is hazardous to health it is important to realise that there is only a risk if exposure can occur. Lead is not absorbed through the skin, therefore exposure is only likely through inhaling or eating dust or flakes or if there is the possibility of the painted surface being chewed or sucked.
It may also be possible that playground equipment has been in place for many years and may have pre-dated the controls. In such case, if a lead-containing painted surface is in good condition and is already protected (over-coated) with a non-lead containing paint and is maintained in a good condition then the risk is negligible.
Playground equipment should also be maintained to ensure it can continue to be used safely. Municipalities and play-ground managers should, therefore, ensure that playgroud equipment is monitored and maintained to prevent dust or particles of the paint (film) from flaking or chipping and to avoid earlier layers of the coating from being exposed by wear.
The South African Paint Manufacturing Association (SAPMA), as a member of the International Paint and Printing Ink Council (IPPIC), is part of a global campaign to eliminate lead from paints, through the Lead Paint Alliance of the World Health Organisation.