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It is commendable that you are seeking a safe environment for your ceramics
classes. I write a safety column for the Art Educators of New Jersey(AENJ)
and have found over the years, that what the art suppliers often indicate on
their labels as being safe is not quite true. One must read the sheets
(MSDS) that should be supplied with each item ordered. The Material Safety
Data Sheets (MSDS) informed me that the many glazes that were labeled as
being safe actually contained fritted lead which is a toxin. I never permit
the students to create any pottery item that will be used as a food
container. I am unable to control the many variables when firing that may
not cause the kiln to fire unevenly and safely: power surges, hot and cold
spots in the kiln, and quality control. Nor am I able to test the completed
projects for their actual level of lead.
Many suppliers are now providing proper labels to adhere to purchased art
supplies that are used in your classroom. In most cases the labels on a
product do not give sufficient information as to the contents or possible
hazards within. There is one proven way to find out more about the hazards
of a product - obtain a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
On November 19,1990, Congress required a new label standard to be placed in
effect. This new law will encourage safer use of all art and craft materials
that both artists, craftspeople, and students will use. "Labeling of
Hazardous Art Materials Act" (Public Law 100-695,15 U.S.C. 1277) will now
direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) the authority to begin
setting up proper guidelines to determine the toxicity level of materials
being produced and whether or not chronic or long term health hazards could
be present. This toxicity standard called "ASTMD-42366-88" will require
labels for all art and craft materials that pose a chronic hazard. (Now known
today as ASTM) Products that are included in this category are: solvents,
silkscreen inks, adhesive sprays, spray paints, and any other substance
marketed for the graphic or visual arts.
Labels must be provided to include a warning statement, identification of the
hazardous ingredient, proper use of the product. The most important feature
that must be considered by the manufacturer is an 800 hotline number that
the consumer may call for all questions to be answered in regards to product
use and precautions should an unforeseen situation occur during product use.
Often an unplanned chemical reaction and interaction may occur with improper
home/classroom use of a product.
The new standard will include producers, repackers or shippers to submit to
CPSC a written report that the product description passes all criteria set,
whether or not it poses any long term health hazards, toxiological tests,
flammability, irritation or any chronic health effects. Every 5 years these
products must be reevaluated and retested. Failure for the manufacturers,
repackers or producers to conform to the new standards with proper labeling
is subject to criminal penalties.
Finally, people are becoming aware of the need to properly identify for
public consumption all hazards in the art areas. Many of our supplies that
are used daily can be found in the Chemistry or Physics classes of our local
schools and are labeled with warnings and used with respect. Once a
manufacturer places an "Art Label" on the same product it suddenly and
magically becomes safe.
Elementary and preschools should be advised not to purchase any materials
that has a hazard label on the product. Use instead water based adhesives
(Elmers Glue), non-scented magic markers (buy nontoxic) and lead based glazes
(use tempera paint or lead free glazes). Give our children the chance they
deserve with exposure to safe products in our classes.
The law now mandates that all art supplies be properly labeled and stored
in respective areas. Keep aerosols and lacquers in special storage cabinets,
label glues and other toxins and prepare your storage area in proper and
professional manner. Have art room safety procedures been a priority at all?
By procedures, we mean making your students aware of the correct manner to
use tools and supplies in a safe and responsible way. If not, why not?
Each art room should have a set of rules to use as guide lines to be
followed in the classroom that you find safe and acceptable based on the age
and skill level of your students. Younger student who cannot read should
take home to their parents the classroom safety rules and have the parents
sign and return the paper to you. It is important that everyone: students,
parents and teacher understand the importance. This also helps cover the
classroom teacher for certain aspects of liability. This does not mean
skipping teaching proper use of tools and supplies, but instead helps to
cover your concerns for your students. Always reinforce skills while the
students are being creative. Keep a watch on progress, and check to see that
all equipment is being used correctly. Students are human as we teachers are
and often forget of use a tool incorrectly.
Use common sense and some simple rules:
* do not run or fool around in the classroom with scissors or compasses
* do not use the paper cutter without teacher supervision
* use xacto knives only after demonstration and in designated areas with a
wooden board under work cutting
* wipe up any water spills
* if unsure about how to use a tool - ask
* avoid creating clay dust - place damp newspaper or burlap on the work
surface, wet sponge to clean area, no sanding
* do not use the art room as a lunchroom
* wash your hands at the end of class
* avoid the hot area of the kiln
General procedures for all materials:
* Read the label!
* Do not eat, drink, or smoke when using any art materials;
* Do not uses any product that has passed its expiration date;
* Wash up after use: yourself and your supplies;
* Always use the products that are appropriate for the individual user.
Children in grade six and lower and adults who may not be able to read and und
erstand safety labeling should use only nontoxic materials;
* Never use products for skin painting or food preparation unless the
product is meant to be used that way;
* Do not place art materials in any container other than their original
container for long term shortage, for minimum class time use it is
Additional procedures to follow when using products that have cautionary
* Keep out of reach of children, treat these supplies as you would household
* Keep your work area clean;
* Protect open cuts and wounds;
* Do not intermix glazes unless recommended by manufacturer;
* Keep work area well ventilated with a proper qualified ventilation system;
* Avoid contact with skin, eyes, and mouth;
* Damp mop area, do not sweep especially when using clay;
* Use masks, gloves and safety goggles that are proper to use with the
product you are using according to the manufacturers recommendations improper
equipment use can only increase the problem not minimize it;
* Use spray bins and local exhausting booths with proper filter ventilation;
* Follow proper disposal methods for your product as indicated on the label,
do not dispose down drain unless so indicated.
Procedures to follow when a product has a flammability warning:
* No smoking or using near heat, sparks or flame;
* Do not heat unless recommended on the label and only to specified
* Be sure you have safety switches (explosion proof) and safety motors
(explosion proof) on the exhaust fan before beginning.
How safe is your art room? When is the last time you checked the facilities
and were aware of the room's actual physical appearance. When one works in
the same room on a daily basis, one tends to overlook the obvious. Such
items to recheck and rethink in the room are:
* do all chairs have their safety tips on them;
* are electrical cords near water;
* are waste can areas sloppy and overflowing;
* are puddles of water on the floor;
* are electrical items left turned on and unattended;
* is there a safety lock on the paper cutter;
* are harmful/toxic items stored in locked metal cabinets;
* do electrical outlets within six feet of sinks have circuit breakers on
* does the room have fire extinguishers, fire blanket and eye wash stations;
* are all storage areas secure and items stored above cabinets neat and
safely stacked (no higher than 18 inches from the ceiling).
Be sure all future supplies are recognized to have either of the three
safety seals on them and that the products conform to the ASTM code. Meet
with your principal and express your concern if certain standards within the
room have been neglected over the years. Ignoring the problem does not
absolve you of liability. Document the infractions to cover yourself.
Remember, the students and you are important. Also insist the students handle
tools and equipment in a responsible manner.
I hope some of this information will help you devise your own Safety List for
the room to ensure a safe and pleasant working environment for you and your
students. Best of luck in your future endeavors and feel free to contact me
should any questions arise.