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Emergency Preparedness & Assistance

Article: Safety Concerns for Studio Artists

As a visual artist, it is hard to consider health and safety concerns a top priority in creating art when you can barely finance your work or find the time to complete it. However, taking the time to consider and assess the risks associated with any art-making activity and spending money on basic safety measures is a necessity.

Instead of relating numerous horror stories to convey the importance of safety in the arts, here are some basic safety topics to encourage you to either get started or heighten your awareness of safety as a valuable investment in your artistic future. While these issues are particularly relevant to visual artists, artists in all disciplines can benefit from this information.

Fire Hazards & Prevention:  

1. Locate exits and devise an escape plan in case of a fire.   

2. Equip your studio with at least one ABC all-purpose fire extinguisher and smoke detector.

3. Install extinguishers near exits and potential fire hazards.

4. Familiarize yourself with the operation of that particular fire extinguisher.

5. Inspect the extinguisher annually. It may need to be professionally recharged or checked over time.

6. Consult the local fire station with your questions.

 
Electrical Fire Prevention:

 1. Inspect electrical wiring and electrical system to make sure that they are in good shape and that they are rated for the amount of power you are pulling from the system.

2. Inspect all tool and machine power cords for damage, as well as any extensions cords you may be using.   

Flammable Material Care:

1. Be aware of all flammable and combustible materials and liquids in your workspace, especially solvents and other chemicals.

2. Always check the label of any material for safe handling and storage instructions.

3. Store these items appropriately and away from potential sources of ignition.

4. You may consider purchasing an anti-flammable storage cabinet. These units need to be properly grounded and ventilated.

5. Waste solvents and solvent-soaked rags should be stored properly in an anti-flammable waste container. 

Other Fire Safety Concerns:  

1. Wear fire resistant clothing like cotton and wool if welding, soldering, glassblowing, or using an open flame. Protect against flying sparks in the workspace.

2. Keep collection systems and machine motors free of flammable dusts and filters.

3. Keep all passageways clean and unobstructed. 

Personal Protective Equipment

The cost of personal safety equipment should be considered a business expense, just like studio rent and material costs. Every artist should own and make use of all of the items listed below.

Ventilation:

Adequate ventilation includes more than an open window or door in your workspace.

1. Choose an appropriate type of ventilation for you. Pick dilution ventilation if working with small amounts of moderate toxins. Dilution ventilation is where clean outside air is brought into the workspace to dilute any toxic gases to safe levels and then the air is exhausted outside. The most effective ventilation solution is local ventilation, where toxic fumes, mists, and dusts are sucked away from the area in which you are working and are vented to the outside by using a tube or hood to capture the toxins as you work, some sort of duct to carry the contaminated air outside, and an exhaust fan to pull the contaminated air through the system. 

2. The tube or hood should be placed as close to the work area or source of contamination as possible.

3. Be sure that there is an adequate supply of clean or fresh air coming in to your workspace.

4. Make sure that the exhaust fan is not located near any clean air intakes, or exhausted contaminated air will re-enter your work space.

5. Design and construct ducts with minimal and gradual bends and the proper length to operate successfully.  

Respirators:

Use a respirator in addition to, never in place of, a properly ventilated workspace

1. Make sure that the respirator is the correct size for your face.

2. Have a safety supply company representative or sales person help with selecting the correct cartridge or filter for your specific needs. Acids require an acid-gas cartridge; bases and alkalis necessitate an ammonia cartridge; dusts, mists, fumes, and other chemicals require the use of a toxic dust filter, and solvents require an organic vapor cartridge.

3. All cartridges and filters should be changed as indicated on the directions for their use.

4. When not in use, respirators should be kept in a sealed plastic bag to preserve the absorption of filters/cartridges and should be wiped clean regularly.  

Gloves: 

1. Use the appropriate type of glove to prevent chemicals, solvents or toxic materials, from entering your body through skin contact.

2. Replace gloves as frequently as is necessary. The contact with toxic substances will make the gloves degrade over time.

3. Use tweezers or tongs to handle toxic materials in order to reduce the exposure to your hands and fingers.

4. Use specialty gloves for metalworking, glass working, and other special operations. 

Face and Eye Protection:

1. Use safety glasses or goggles for protection against impact, as well as those worn for infrared and ultraviolet radiation and chemical splash protection.

2. Have a safety supply company representative or salesperson help you select the proper safety glasses for your needs. Safety glasses used for impact hazards should include shatter-resistant lenses and side shields. Glasses used to protect against infrared radiation require a shade rating between 1.7 and 3. Most safety glasses will block out the majority of ultraviolet light. If you are using a process that generates intense ultraviolet light, you will need to purchase glasses designed to protect you from this hazard.

3. In some instances a face shield may also be needed. Face shields are designed to protect against damage to the face only and should not be substituted for eye protection.

Hearing Protection:

1. Protective earmuffs offer the most protection but can sometimes interfere with safety glasses or face shields. Earplugs are another alternative.

2. Clean these items regularly. Earplugs contaminated with grease or other chemicals can become a hazard themselves.   

Other Protective Clothing and Equipment:

Additional personal protective equipment is available, depending on your particular activity. Some of these items include: leather aprons and jackets, hard hats, and safety shoes. Check with your local safety supply company.  

First Aid Kit:

All workspaces should be equipped with a well-supplied First Aid Kit.

1. Locate the kit in an accessible location.

2. In addition to the general list of medicines and supplies that most of us are familiar with, the kit should also include a first aid manual and a list of emergency numbers.

3. Keep any allergy or medical condition medication with your first aid kit.

4. Storage and Handling of Toxic Chemicals and other Materials:

5. Take an inventory of all the materials you work with and know what materials are hazardous and what chemicals they contain.

6. Always check the label of any new material for safe handling and storage instructions. The Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) mark many art materials. Products bearing the AP seal of the ACMI are certified non-toxic. Materials bearing the CL seal of the ACMI contain ingredients that are toxic or hazardous but can be safely used following precautions.

7. Collect Material Safety Data Sheets for the materials you use. Manufacturers of all materials are required to have Material Safety Data Sheets on all materials. These sheets provide detailed information on product ingredients and hazards, and the precautions that should be taken.  

Other Storage Concerns:

1. Store materials in original containers.

2. If materials cannot be stored in original containers, label the new container.

3. Avoid breakable glass containers.

4. Make sure materials/containers will not fall off shelves and are tightly capped.

5. Do not place volatile materials on high shelves.

6. Do not store incompatible materials or chemicals together.

7. Gas cylinders should be chained up to a permanent fixture to prevent them from falling.  

General Safety Tips:  

1. If possible, substitute safer materials or processes for those that present risks.

2. Maintain/periodically check all equipment and tools.

3. Tie all hair back when using power tools and equipment.

4. Never remove or alter tool or machine guards.

5. Vacuum, rather than sweep, dusty work areas.

6. Keep separate clothes for working in the studio - wash them separately and often.

7. Do not eat, drink or smoke in the studio.

8. Have proper lighting in your workspace.