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Foul Play with the Not-So-Fine Print


By Simon Hope

Over the years, I have watched all sorts of wonderful ideas come and go. Many of them have been well thought out, but a large number can be described only as “snake oil” get-rich-quick schemes.

Most of these latter tend to be “wonder paints” that do just about everything, including curing the common cold! Why is it that apparently intelligent individuals can’t see these for what they really are? Just a quick look at the data sheets will invariably tell you that there are things not quite right with the product.

In other words, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

But perhaps this is oversimplifying.

After all, after reading my way through a whole host of data sheets from various manufacturers for 30-odd years, I have come to one conclusion: Most manufacturers use data sheets to hide behind.

When So-and-So Met Blah Blah

Careful reading of the contents of these sheets can soon render anyone totally confused. The way they are presented makes you wonder if they have been written by a lawyer, rather than a technical expert.

The number of contradictions is laid out to catch the unwary, so that whatever you do, you will not be able to produce a compliant coating.

Eventually, when things go wrong, you tell the manufacturer that you followed the information on the front page of the data sheet, where Section So-and-So says something like, ”Total protection achieved in a single coat” and “ brush application suitable in several coats can achieve the specified DFT.”

 Simon Hope (left); Harvard University (right)

This helpful safety information should readily answer all of your questions.

The response to this will inevitably be a smug: “Aha!! But did you read Section Blah Blah, Subsection Whatever, on the back of the auxiliary sheet relating to limitations of performance, where it states, ‘Proper performance will only be achieved when applied by airless spray in a single coat with an anti-corrosive primer and suitable top coat?’”

And for the geriatrics amongst us, this will be in such small print as to need a magnifying glass. (I have never managed to find a font size that small on my computer!)

No Sanity Clause

Of course, the hurdles built into the data sheet multiply with the more unscrupulous manufacturers.

Even if you do manage to beat all the obstacles—you managed to apply the coating so that there was no argument as to it being applied incorrectly, you read all the paragraphs and looked everywhere with a microscope and UV light for exclusions and escape clauses—the unexpected can happen.

The coating fails.

It is at this point that the manufacturer graciously admits defeat and agrees to replace the defective paint. So you go and measure up, say, 7,000 square feet. You agree it’s a 5% breakdown, far worse than the permitted 2%.

Next minute, out comes the calculator:  “5% of 700 … umm … 35 square feet … coverage rate 11 square feet per quart ...umm … just over 3 quarts  … let’s call it a straight gallon to be generous… umm…”

But Wait! There’s Less!

In due course, a one-gallon can of the stuff lands on your desk—and your jaw drops. Why? You didn’t read the terms and conditions: “The manufacturer is only liable to replace the defective paint and is not liable for any application or access costs. Liability is limited to a maximum of the original contract cost of the paint supplied.”

Much as I respect the majority of coating manufacturers for their professional integrity and honesty, there are always rogues in any industry looking for the quick buck and prepared to do just about anything for it. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is—and always read ALL






the small print—wherever it has been hidden!!


Simon Hope

Three decades as a self-employed coating consultant for the oil majors, military, offshore contractors and coating manufacturers—plus stints in shipping, power generation and other industries—have provided plenty of fodder for Simon Hope’s sharp observations. He welcomes “a healthy or unhealthy debate” on any coating topic, adding: “I never cease to be amazed at the messes that individuals manage to achieve—and, having reached rock bottom, seem to think that dynamiting is the way forwards.”



Tagged categories: Coatings manufacturers; Container labels; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

Comment from Jerry Trevino, (12/12/2012, 8:07 AM)

I can not agree more. When one considers the thousands of applications, and hundreds of specifiers typically engineering firms who have little knowledge of coatings, and the hundreds of manufactures the possibilities are endless. I very strongly feel that whenever, a customer requires an extended warranty on coating projects, the manufacturer should also be accountable for the warranty beyond, just replacing the product. I do also know that applicators do very stupid things, however, coating reps should be aware of the application of their products, and manufacturers should have more realistic application data sheets.

Comment from trevor neale, (12/12/2012, 9:23 AM)

Excellent blog, totally agree with Jerry, whenever a performance warranty is required there needs to be at least three parties involved, the owner, the coating supplier and the applicator. Invariably one the parties will want certified and experienced third party inspection.Depending on the liabilities involved finger printing of the coating material may be necessary to ensure conformance with the original material that was the basis of its selection in the first place as presumably a series of trials and exposures to the specific condition was used as the basis for its selection.

Comment from Per Gabrielsson, (12/13/2012, 11:03 AM)

The same goes for official guarantee forms. The text is so confusing, that you get completely mixed up when trying to interprete and understand what the different clauses really mean - and then you suddenly find out that there is one clause actually nullifying another one. Actually most of those official guarantee forms are worth nothing (but the customer usually is fooled to accept them) and the paper they are written on are too hard even to use as toilet paper.

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