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Art Teaching

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Health and safety problems in art programmes can be similar in educational institutions ranging from junior high schools to universities. Arts programmes are a special problem because their hazards are not often recognized and, especially at the college level, can be semi-industrial in scale. Hazards can include inhalation of airborne contaminants; ingestion or dermal absorption of toxins; injury from machinery and tools; slips, trips and falls; and repetitive strain and other musculoskeletal injuries. Precautions include the provision of adequate ventilation (both dilution and local exhaust), the safe handling and storage of chemicals, machine-guarding and competent maintenance of machinery, efficient clean-up, good housekeeping and adjustable work stations. A key precaution in avoiding occupational safety and health problems of all kinds is adequate and mandatory training.

Elementary and Secondary School Teachers

Hazards at the elementary and secondary school levels include practices such as spraying and unsafe use of solvents and other chemicals and poor ventilation of processes. There is frequently a lack of proper equipment and sufficient knowledge of materials to ensure a safe workplace. Precautions include efficient engineering controls, better knowledge of materials, the elimination of hazardous art supplies from schools and substitution with safer ones (see table 1). This will help protect not only teachers, technicians, maintenance workers and administrators, but also students.

Table 1. Hazards and precautions for particular classes.





Elementary Classes


Animal handling










Bites and scratches,

zoonoses, parasites


Allergies, poisonous plants


Skin and eye problems,

toxic reactions, allergies


Electrical hazards,

safety hazards

Allow only live, healthy animals. Handle animals with heavy gloves. Avoid

animals which can carry disease-transmitting insects and parasites.


Avoid plants which are known to be poisonous or cause allergic reaction.


Avoid using toxic chemicals with children. Wear proper personal protective

equipment when doing teacher demonstrations with toxic chemicals.


Follow standard electrical safety procedures. Ensure all equipment is properly

guarded. Store all equipment, tools, etc., properly.






Painting and drawing





Textile and fibre arts














Pigments, solvents







Acids, solvents


Cutting tools






Silica, toxic metals, heat,

kiln fumes

Use only non-toxic art materials. Avoid solvents, acids, alkalis, spray cans, chemical dyes, etc.


Use only children’s paints. Do not use pastels, dry pigments.


Do not do photoprocessing. Send out film for developing or use Polaroid cameras

or blueprint paper and sunlight.


Avoid synthetic dyes; use natural dyes such as onion skins, tea, spinach, etc.


Use water-based block printing inks.


Use linoleum cuts instead of woodcuts.


Use soft woods and hand tools only.


Use water-based glues.


Use wet clay only, and wet mop.

Paint pottery rather than using ceramic glazes. Do not fire kiln inside classroom.



Secondary Classes










Organic chemistry







Inorganic chemistry


Analytical chemistry














Peroxides and explosives



Acids and bases


Hydrogen sulphide






All school laboratories should have the following: laboratory hood if toxic, volatile

chemicals are used; eyewash fountains; emergency showers (if concentrated

acids, bases or other corrosive chemicals are present); first aid kits; proper fire

extinguishers; protective goggles, gloves and lab coats; proper disposal

receptacles and procedures; spill control kit. Avoid carcinogens, mutagens and

highly toxic chemicals like mercury, lead, cadmium, chlorine gas, etc.


Use only in laboratory hood.

Use least toxic solvents.

Do semi-micro- or microscale experiments.


Do not use explosives or chemicals such as ether, which can form explosive



Avoid concentrated acids and bases when possible.


Do not use hydrogen sulphide. Use substitutes.


Avoid alphabetical storage, which can place incompatible chemicals in close

proximity. Store chemicals by compatible groups.


Store flammable and combustible liquids in approved flammable-storage







Anaesthetizing insects


Drawing of blood




Culturing bacteria




Ether, cyanide


HIV, Hepatitis B





Do not dissect specimens preserved in formaldehyde. Use smaller, freeze-dried

animals, training films and videotapes, etc.


Use ethyl alcohol for anaesthetization of insects. Refrigerate insects for counting.


Avoid if possible. Use sterile lancets for blood typing under close supervision.


Avoid skin contact with iodine and gentian violet.


Use sterile technique with all bacteria, assuming there could be contamination by

pathogenic bacteria.


Physical sciences




Electricity and magnetism



Ionizing radiation



Electrical hazards



Eye and skin damage,

electrical hazards

Use radioisotopes only in “exempt” quantities not requiring a license. Only trained

teachers should use these. Develop a radiation safety programme.


Follow standard electrical safety procedures.



Use only low-power (Class I) lasers. Never look directly into a laser beam or pass

the beam across face or body. Lasers should have a key lock.


Earth sciences



Water pollution








Solar observation

Flying chips


Infection, toxic chemicals



Mercury manometers



Ammonium dichromate


Infrared radiation

Crush rocks in canvas bag to prevent flying chips. Wear protective goggles.


Do not take sewage samples because of infection risk. Avoid hazardous

chemicals in field testing of water pollution.


Use oil or water manometers. If mercury manometers are used for demonstration,

have mercury spill control kit.


Do not use ammonium dichromate and magnesium to simulate volcanoes.


Never view sun directly with eyes or through lenses.


Art and Industrial Arts




Painting and drawing






Textile and fibre arts




Pigments, solvents



Photochemicals, acids,

sulphur dioxide


Dyes, dyeing assistants,

wax fumes

Avoid most dangerous chemicals and processes. Have proper ventilation. See

also precautions under Chemistry


Avoid lead and cadmium pigments. Avoid oil paints unless cleanup is done with

vegetable oil. Use spray fixatives outside.


Avoid colour processing and toning. Have dilution ventilation for darkroom. Have

eyewash fountain. Use water instead of acetic acid for stop bath.


Use aqueous liquid dyes or mix dyes in glove box. Avoid dichromate mordants.

Do not use solvents to remove wax in batik. Have ventilation if ironing out wax.











































Alkali, beaters








Acids, potassium chlorate







Woods and wood dust




Machinery and tools







Paints and finishes



Lead, silica, toxic metals, kiln fumes



Silica, plastics resins, dust





Soldering fumes, acids

Do not boil lye. Use rotten or mulched plant materials, or recycle paper and

cardboard. Use large blender instead of more dangerous industrial beaters to

prepare paper pulp.


Use water-based instead of solvent-based silk screen inks. Clean intaglio press

beds nd inking slabs with vegetable oil and dishwashing liquid instead of solvents.

Use cut paper stencils instead of lacquer stencils for silk screen printing.


Use ferric chloride to etch copper plates instead of Dutch mordant or nitric acid on

zinc plates. If using nitric acid etching, have emergency shower and eyewash

fountain and local exhaust ventilation.


Use diazo instead of dichromate photoemulsions. Use citric acid fountain

solutions in lithography to replace dichromates.


Have dust collection system for woodworking machines. Avoid irritating and

allergenic hardwoods, preserved woods (e.g., chromated copper arsenate

treated).Clean up wood dust to remove fire hazards.


Have machine guards. Have key locks and panic button.


Reduce noise levels or wear hearing protectors.


Use water-based glues when possible. Avoid formaldehyde/resorcinol glues,

solvent-based glues.


Use water-based paints and finishes. Use shellac based on ethyl alcohol rather

than methyl alcohol.


Purchase wet clay. Do not use lead glazes. Buy prepared glazes rather than

mixing dry glazes. Spray glazes only in spray booth. Fire kiln outside or have

local exhaust ventilation. Wear infrared goggles when looking into hot kiln.


Use only hand tools for stone sculpture to reduce dust levels. Do not use

sandstone, granite or soapstone, which might contain silica or asbestos. Do not

use highly toxic polyester, epoxy or polyurethane resins. Have ventilation if

heating plastics to remove decomposition products. Wet mop or vacuum dusts.


Avoid cadmium silver solders and fluoride fluxes. Use sodium hydrogen sulphate rather than sulphuric acid for pickling. Have local exhaust ventilation.






Lost wax casting




Stained glass







Commercial art

Lead, burns, infrared



Metal fumes, silica,

infrared radiation, heat



Lead, acid fluxes



Metal fumes, ozone, nitrogen

dioxide, electrical and fire



Solvents, photochemicals,

video display terminals

Use only lead-free enamels. Ventilate enameling kiln. Have heat-protective

gloves and clothing, and infrared goggles.


Use 50/50 30-mesh sand/plaster instead of cristobalite investments. Have local

exhaust ventilation for wax burnout kiln and casting operation. Wear heat-pro

tective clothing and gloves.


Use copper foil technique rather than lead came. Use lead- and antimony-free

solders. Avoid lead glass paints. Use acid- and rosin-free soldering fluxes.


Do not weld metals coated with zinc, lead paints, or alloys with hazardous metals

(nickel, chromium, etc.). Weld only metals of known composition.



Use double-sided tape instead of rubber cement. Use heptane-based, not hexane

rubber cements. Have spray booths for air brushing. Use water-based or alcohol-

based permanent markers instead of xylene types.

See Photography section for photoprocesses.

Have proper ergonomic chairs, lighting, etc., for computers.


Performing Arts











Solvents, paints, welding

fumes, isocyanates, safety,




Acute injuries

Repetitive strain injuries



Musculoskeletal injuries

(e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome)






Vocal strain

Use water-based paints and dyes. Do not use polyurethane spray foams.

Separate welding from other areas. Have safe rigging procedures. Avoid

pyrotechnics, firearms, fog and smoke, and other hazardous special effects.

Fireproof all stage scenery. Mark all trap doors, pits and elevations.


Have a proper dance floor. Avoid full schedules after period of inactivity. Assure

proper warm-up before and cool-down after dance activity. Allow sufficient

recovery time after injuries.


Use proper sized instruments. Have adequate instrument supports. Allow sufficient recovery time after injuries.


Keep sound levels at acceptable levels. Wear musician’s ear plugs if needed.

Position speakers to minimize noise levels. Use sound-absorbing materials on



Assure adequate warm-up. Provide proper vocal training and conditioning.


Automotive Mechanics

Brake drums




Car motors









Carbon monoxide




Solvents, pigments

Do not clean brake drums unless approved equipment is used.


Use water-based detergents. Use parts cleaner


Have tailpipe exhaust.


See above.


Spray paint only in spray booth, or outdoors with respiratory protection.



Home Economics

Food and nutrition

Electrical hazards


Knives and other sharp



Fire and burns



Cleaning products

Follow standard electrical safety rules.


Always cut away from body. Keep knives sharpened.



Have stove hoods with grease filters that exhaust to outside. Wear protective

gloves with hot objects.


Wear goggles, gloves and apron with acidic or basic cleaning products.



College and University Teachers

Hazards at the college and university levels include, in addition to those mentioned above, the fact that students, teachers and technicians tend to be more experimental and tend to use more potentially dangerous materials and machinery. They also often work on a larger scale and for longer periods of time. Precautions must include education and training, the provision of engineering controls and personal protective equipment, written safety policies and procedures and insistence on compliance with these.

Artistic Freedom

Many art teachers and technicians are artists in their own right, resulting in multiple exposures to the hazards of art materials and processes which can significantly increase their health risks. When confronted with hazards in their field about which they have not known or which they have ignored, many teachers become defensive. Artists are experimental and frequently belong to an anti-establishment culture which encourages defiance of institutional rules. It is important, however, for the school administration to realize that the quest for artistic freedom is not a valid argument against working safely.

Liability and Training

In many jurisdictions teachers will be subject to both a personal and a school liability for the safety of their students, particularly the younger ones. “Because of the age, maturity, and experience limitations of most students, and because teachers stand in loco parentis (in the place of a parent), schools are expected to provide a safe environment and establish reasonable behaviour for the protection of students” (Qualley 1986).

Health and Safety Programmes

It is important that schools take the responsibility for training both art teachers and school administrators in the potential hazards of art materials and processes and in how to protect their students and themselves. A prudent school administration will ensure that there are in place written health and safety policies, procedures and programmes, compliance with these, regular safety training and a real interest in teaching how to create art safely.



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