With the beginning of a new school year approaching (tommorrow for me) I
wish everyone a health year.
by Lorena Nalin
Can anyone put a price on good health? Yet often as art teachers
we take for granted that our workplace is not harming our health.
Sometimes we know enough to request adequate ventilation, lighting and
supplies, sometimes we don't. Often, however, we must convince someone
else that these concerns are important and must be addressed.
This article is the result of my concern for two colleagues and
friends that have had life changing experiences as a result of conditions
in their workplace. One has undergone disk surgery on her back to
alleviate a painful injury and the other is now on medical leave with the
potentially disabling illness of silicosis. Both have comprehensive
ceramic/pottery programs, which make up the majority of their teaching
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
estimates that there are more than one million American workers that are at
risk of developing silicosis. For clay artist, silicosis is more commonly
called potter's rot, but this condition is not exclusive to potters.
Exposure to crystalline silica and the resulting illness has been around
since ancient times in a variety of occupations involving processes and
products using sand, quartz, or granite rock.
According to information provided by OSHA, "Crystalline silica is a
ubiquitous substance which is the basic component of sand, quartz and
granite rock. Airborne crystalline silica occurs commonly in both the work
and non-work environments. Occupational exposure to crystalline silica dust
has long been known to produce silicosis, a pneumoconiosis or dust disease
of the lung. Activities such as sandblasting, rock drilling, roof bolting,
foundry work, stonecutting, drilling, quarrying, brick/block/concrete
cutting, gunite operations, lead-based paint encapsulant applications, and
tunneling through the earth's crust can create an airborne silica exposure
hazard." (Dear, 1996)
"Inhalation of crystalline silica-containing dusts has been
associated with silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
bronchitis, collagen vascular diseases, chronic granulomatous infections
such as tuberculosis, and lung cancer. In general, aerosols of particulates
can be deposited in the lungs. This can produce rapid or slow local tissue
damage, eventual disease or physical plugging. Dust containing crystalline
silica can cause formation of fibrosis (scar tissue) in the lungs." (Dear,
1996) Symptoms of the illness can take many years to become evident but
typically begins with a shortness of breath after exertion. Coughing and
wheezing may become evident as the disease progresses.
The consequences of becoming ill from exposure to these toxins are
long difficult battles with school, legal and compensation systems that do
not adequately protect our health. This teacher suggests that proper
ventilation (install and maintain systems that blow down and past the
worker, and air conditioning that does not recycle the existing air supply
through out the building), cleaning procedures (daily wet sponging of
surfaces by students and teacher and daily mopping of floors and damp
cleaning of surfaces, such as light fixtures and air ducts to eliminate
build-up of dust particles by custodial staff.) be regularly scheduled.
Ordinary vacuuming of areas does not eliminate the silica particles and
most often make them airborne through the unfiltering dirt collection
bag/container that is used in most schools. No less important are
education programs for administrators, teachers and students to be held to
create awareness for and solutions of the problems.
Another common health risk is back injury. Strains, pulled
muscles,or even ruptured disks can result from over exertion, heavy lifting
and unsupported bending. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),
back injuries account for one of every five injuries and illnesses in the
workplace. Eighty percent of these injuries occur to the lower back and are
associated with manual materials handling tasks. The Environmental Health &
Safety Department at the University of Virginia has created this list of
the 5 Leading Back Injury Risk Factors!
2.Poor physical condition
3.Improper body mechanics
5.Jobs that require high energy
According to Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, back problems can
be attributed to " . . . poor muscle tone in the back, muscle tension or
spasm, back sprains, ligament or muscle tears, joint problems. Sometimes
nerves from the spinal cord can be irritated by slipped discs causing
buttock or leg pain. This may also cause numbness, tingling, or weakness
in the legs." (AHCPR Publication, 1994) "Sprains and strains are some of
the most common back problems. We describe muscles as strained, and joints
and ligaments as sprained. Sprains and strains occur when you bend the
spine too far in any direction, or bend repeatedly, or put too much load on
the spine in a bent position. This will pull on ligaments and muscles, and
will gradually tear a few tiny fibers." (Herbert, 1995)
The key to these situations is prevention. For back injury
protection it is suggested that good judgment is used when lifting heavy
objects and ask for help if trying to lift a heavy or awkward object.
* Keep all lifted objects close to your body.
* Avoid lifting while twisting, bending forward, and reaching.
(AHCPR Publication, 1994)
Impacc USA is a physical training organization that offers useful
"Forward bending is the most significant risk factor for back injury. When
you bend forward, you stretch the more vulnerable back wall of your disc.
There is also compression to the front of your disc, pushing the nucleus
firmly against the back wall. This can lead to disc problems." (Herbert,
1995) "People who are in poor physical condition or do work that includes
heavy labor or long periods of sitting or standing are at greater risk for
low back problems." (AHCPR Publication, 1994) You can learn about proper
lifting techniques and back strengthening exercises at their Web site
Other sources of information:
The following resources are included here to provide direction to those
interested in learning more. Most are available at local bookstores and
libraries. This is not a complete listing and prices are subject to change.
Art Safety Procedures for Art Schools and Art Departments by Michael McCann
1992, 109 pages New York: Center for Safety in the Arts, $23
Artist Beware: The Hazards in Working with All Art and Craft Materials and
the Precautions Every Artist and Photographer Should Take by Michael McCann
Second Edition, 1992, 560 pages New York: Lyons & Burford, $29.95
The Artist's Complete Health and Safety Guide by Monona Rossol
Second Edition, 1994, 344 pages New York:, Allworth Press, $16.95
Health Hazards in the Arts and Crafts edited by Gail Barazani and Michael
McCann 1994, 100 pages Washington, DC: Society of Environmental Health,
Health Hazards Manual for Artists by Michael McCann
Fourth Edition, 1994, 100 pages New York: Lyons & Burford, $11.95
Overexposure: Health Hazards in Photography by Susan Shaw and Monona Rossol
Second Edition, 1991, 320 pages Allworth Press: New York, $19.95
Safety in the Artroom by Charles A. Qualley 1986. Davis Publications,
Worcester, MA. 120 pp. Cost: $10.95 + $3.50 postage and handling
Ventilation by Nancy Clark, Thomas Cutter and Jean-Ann McGrane 1984, 128
pages New York: Lyons & Burford, $12.95 ISBN: 0-941130-44-4
Some interesting information available on the World Wide Web (Internet).
Agency for Health Care Policy and Research
University of Virginia
Center for Safety in the Arts http://www.artswire.org:70/1/csa
Or write to these organization for further assistance.
Center for Safety in the Arts
5 Beekman Street, Suite 820
New York, NY 10038
Fax: (212) 233-3846
Contact: Angela Babin
Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety (ACTS)
181 Thompson Street, #23
New York, NY 10012-2586
Contact: Monona Rossol, President
Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (1994) Consumer
Guideline Number 14 AHCPR Publication No. 95-0644: December 1994
ArtsUSA "Health And Safety In The Arts - Factsheet"
Dear, Joseph A(1996) . Occupational Safety & Health Administration
MEMORANDUM FOR: Regional Administrators, SUBJECT: Special Emphasis Program
(SEP) for Silicosis: Appendix A Background: Crystalline Silica and
Hebert, Lauren Andrew (1995). Impacc USA "BACK-FAQ"
McCann, M. (1982). Artist Beware, 2nd ed. Lyons and Burford
University of Virginia. (1996) Allen, Karen. Senior Physical
Therapist Environmental Health & Safety - University of Virginia UVa/EHS
Ergonomics Training and Resources