Safety guidelines for Fine Arts students working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic
While campus facilities are closed, the university is committed to safeguarding the health and safety of members of the community. Artists can make use of many hazardous materials in their day-to-day work, such as solvents, resins, photography stock solutions, and paints and pigments. Other normally non-hazardous materials can pose health issues if not used correctly, such as sculpting materials (dusts from treated wood, stone, or plaster), fibers, and textiles. Even certain common household consumer products can be hazardous.
Fine Arts materials that may represent a health and safety risk if not used with proper ventilation include:
- Solvents: Solvents are used in many arts techniques, either as part of the art material itself (such as paints, inks, thinners or adhesives) or for cleaning up. The primary hazards are their flammability and solvent vapours, but many solvents are also toxic.
- Paints and Pigments: Paints and ceramic glazes contain a wide range of pigments, which may include heavy metals or other toxic metals to produce vivid colours.
- Photography solutions: The greatest risk involved with photographic processing is the mixing of the stock solutions. The chemicals used can vary, but can include toxic and/or corrosive substances.
- Wood, Stone and Other Sculpture Media: The primary hazards from woodworking and stonework are cuts and abrasions. However, the dust generated from the different work processes can cause irritation of the respiratory tract or asthma.
- Fibres and Textiles: Health hazards in fibre or textile arts include dusts, gases, fumes, and vapours that are inherent in the materials or are produced in the work process. These may be inhaled or affect the skin.
- Students are encouraged to get in touch with their faculty member or technician to go over their project and the steps that they have taken to improve health and safety in their home.
- Schedule regular breaks. Avoid working on projects for hours at a time without a break.
- Make sure to have access to basic first aid materials when working.
- Keep your workspace clean, uncluttered and organized: Make sure to have an easy egress without tight turns or congested manoeuvring areas.
- If you can, get out of the house at least once a day. Your body needs to move, and fresh air and scenery is good for morale and productivity. Although we are practicing social distancing it is still important that you take a break from your routine workspace all while making sure to follow the directives communicated by the federal and provincial governments.
- If you are alone or self-quarantining, contact your professor to discuss alternatives.
There are three main routes of entry into the body: inhalation, dermal, and ingestion. Appropriate work methods, hygiene, and personal protective equipment must be considered to prevent exposures. Most homes will not have the proper ventilation for working with hazardous chemicals and dusts. However, there are precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of exposure when handling hazardous materials.
- Ensure that you have the appropriate training:
- Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) for Fine Arts (Mandatory)
- Hazardous Waste Disposal (Recommended)
- Assess the materials and their hazards. If labels do not have adequate information regarding contents, hazards, and precautions, consult the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) of the product. Most SDS are available online from the vendor or manufacturer of the material.
- Avoid using highly toxic materials at home.
- Open windows to provide natural ventilation and dilute the fumes generated by the use of chemicals.
- If possible, use a fan to move fumes/vapours away from yourself.
- Use a vacuum to simulate a dust collector for non-hazardous dusts.
- If possible, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators, gloves, long sleeves and closed footwear.
- Never eat, drink, or smoke while working with hazardous materials.
- Do not use the same containers for paints, solvents, or other chemicals that you do for food or drink.
- If you must use food or drink containers, have a designated container for paints, solvents, or other chemicals and ensure to label it accordingly.
- Store materials safely. Do not keep arts materials in refrigerators that also contain food or drink.
- Dispose of any hazardous waste in a responsible manner. Never place hazardous chemicals in regular garbage or down the drain. Verify municipal guidelines to dispose of chemicals safely and consult the city of Montreal website for information on your local ecocentre.
- Solvent soaked rags can pose a serious fire hazard. Never leave solvent soaked rags out in the open for extended periods. Place solvent soaked rags in a garbage bag filled with enough water to completely cover the rags.
- Solvent containers should never be let open as vapours can be emitted and pose a fire hazard when mixed with air and in the presence of a source of ignition (i.e. heat, flame, spark, sunlight).
- Be mindful of others in your home. Although you may be protected with personal protective equipment, they can be exposed to the materials you are using. They should not be in the room with you as you work.
- Always wash your hands after working on your projects to avoid accidental ingestion of hazardous materials.
- Gloves should be changed at the first sign of degradation but also regularly without visible contamination, ideally after a 2 hour-shift.
- Clean up when you are done for the day. Leaving spilled chemicals or hazardous dusts does not contribute to a healthy home environment.
- WHMIS for Fine Arts safety training on moodle at http://www.concordia.ca/campus-life/safety/training.html in Safety Training and Moodle Courses section. Although solely based on WHMIS 1988, this safety training still provide useful information for users that did not attend the WHMIS 1988 & 2015 for Fine Arts live session. The additional information presented in this document will complement this training.
- Studio Arts Chemical Safety Guidelines and references therein.
- See Appendix 1 for tips on safe work practices for specific tasks.
If you sustain an injury, please complete an Injury/Near‑Miss Report Form and forward it to Environmental Health and Safety via email email@example.com, as soon as possible after the incident:
For more information, contact:
Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)
514-848-2424, ext. 4877 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Safe work practices for specific tasks
Some Fine Arts activities require specific control measures, such as efficient exhaust ventilation systems that are not necessarily available at home. It is strongly discouraged to carry out activities involving or generating hazardous chemicals, such as:
- the use of extremely corrosive chemicals, such as HF or concentrated acidic solutions and other mordents in etching processes (e.g. in printmaking, intaglio and lithography)
- curing procedures processed at high-temperature in specific fuel-fired or electrical kilns that can release toxic combustion products (e.g. carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulfoxides), and
- when appropriate personal protective equipment is not available.
Solvents are the most underrated hazards used in Arts. They can be used as is but are also mixed with oils, resins, varnishes, inks, additives, vehicles/binders to name a few.
- Give priority to non-aromatic solvents and generating zero (or low) Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
- Do not wash plates, tools with solvents without appropriate personal protective equipment (gloves, safety glasses).
Make sure that solvent containers are closed properly when not in use. In addition to potentially toxic emissions, solvent vapours are usually heavier than air and will tend to accumulate in lower areas in the room, where electrical outlets are located.
- Do not wash hands with solvents!
- Avoid the use of dry pigments containing carcinogenic lead, cadmium, chromium (VI) or mercury. Refer to the list of pigments provided in the Pigments section below.
- Give priority to non-toxic paints to reduce exposure, allergies and chemical sensitivity: zero or low-VOCs, no heavy metals, no ammonia, no formaldehyde, reduced amounts of toxins.
- Consider the use of water–based paints.
- Toxic mists generated from spray guns, airbrushes, or aerosol spray cans require appropriate respiratory protective equipment. The half- or full-face respirator with suitable cartridges will be protective on the condition that the user has been fit-tested.
- Give priority to pre-mixed paints, water-based materials, non-toxic hues, commercially available inks.
- Wear protective safety glasses to avoid eye injury by projectiles.
- Clean up dust regularly. Never dry sweep as this will disperse the dust in the air. If possible, use a water spray while carving to minimize dust. Clean surfaces by wet mopping or vacuum.
- Avoid the following materials:
- Silica-containing stones such as sandstone, soapstone, slate, granite
- Asbestos-containing stones such as serpentine, soapstone and greenstone
- Hardwoods (giant sequoia, cork oak, some maple woods, redwood, ebony, blackwood, exotic woods, red cedar, oak, beech). Rather use softwoods, which are usually less toxic.
- Plaster containing silica or corrosive additives, such as Portland cement
- While the material itself may not be toxic, the presence of preservatives can contain toxic chemicals that can be released when manipulated.
- Give priority to asbestos-free (alabaster) and low in silica (limestone) stones.
- Give priority to non-toxic glues and adhesives: white (polyvinyl acetate), water-based or casein glues.
- Do not use aromatic solvents to release molds.
- Avoid the use of chlorinated waxes that are highly toxic and carcinogenic.
- Do not overheat wax to avoid releases of toxin fumes of acrolein.
- Avoid the use of acetone, alcohol, benzene, carbon tetrachloride to dissolve wax.
- Pay attention to additives that often generate irritating and sensitizing compounds, such as rosin, petroleum jelly and other solvents.
- Use safe alternatives while working with resins and plastics such as Green polyurethaneTM, ArtResin®, or Aqua·Resin®.
- Avoid to use oil-based clays containing sulfurated derivatives.
- Pigments containing arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium (VI), nickel, uranium, antimony, vanadium, lead are known or probable human carcinogens and are to be avoid at all costs. Refer to the list of pigments provided in Appendix 2.
- Consider dry clays as generating silica-related hazards and should not be used without the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.
- Talc added to clay may contain asbestos or “asbestos-like fibers”. Respiratory protection must be worn while handling this type of material.
- Wear appropriate gloves, safety glasses and respiratory protection while using wet clays as they represent growth media for molds and microorganisms that can provoke allergies, infections, or worsen asthma condition.
- Take necessary respiratory protective precautions during firing process: toxic gases including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulfoxides, chlorine, or nitroxides can be released.
- For glazes: Ceramic stain, velvet underglazes, low fire glaze, Raku glaze are recommended.
- Avoid to use metal fluxes containing highly toxic compounds such as lead, barium, and lithium.
- Use boric oxide as a glass former instead of silica.
- Avoid the use of your pottery as a food/drink vessel as toxic chemicals can leach out.
- Firing process in fuel-fired or electric kiln can release combustion products/gases, such as toxic chemicals abovementioned, along with toxins and infrared radiation. This process should be excluded from artistic activities from home.
- Do not use p-phenylenediamine and its derivatives.
- Use liquid chemistry rather than mixing developing powders.
- Appropriate ventilation is required in dark rooms to control the level of toxic vapours.
- Wear appropriate personal protective equipment including safety glasses and thick gloves while handling toxic developers, intensifiers/reducers, or corrosive developing and stop/fixing baths.
- The use of toxic and corrosive materials involved in the different photography processes is strongly discouraged in the absence of engineering controls such as local exhaust ventilation.
- Use low-dusting dyes, dust suppressed such as solutions, granules, pellets, paste.
- Avoid the use of chromium-containing mordant dyes (fixatives).
- Personal protective equipment must be worn when dyestuff dusts (textile finishing) or disperse, reactive and vat dyes (Remazol, Indigo) are generated and used.
- Non-halogenated spotting solvents are preferred.
Hierarchy of Controls
Controlling exposures to hazards is the fundamental method of protecting workers and students. Traditionally, a hierarchy of controls has been used as a means of determining how to implement feasible and effective control solutions.
Although some sources may use additional levels and a variation of the hierarchy of controls, it is widely accepted that there are at least five main ways to control a hazard (see Figure 1). The concept behind this hierarchy is that the control methods at the top of graphic are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom.
This is the process of removing the hazard from the workspace. It is the most effective way to control a risk, although not always feasible.
Involves substituting hazardous materials, machines or equipment with less hazardous ones. For this to be effective, the user must evaluate the hazards related to the products to be substituted along with the ones associated with potential substitutions. That is, one hazard must not be traded for one of equal or more hazardous properties. Very often, Safety Data Sheets comparison is useful in this process.
Common non-hazardous alternatives include:
- Non-toxic pigments
- Non-aromatic solvents
- Water-based paints
- Low VOC paints
- Pellets, crystals, flakes instead of fine powders
3. Engineering controls
Engineering controls include methods built into the design of an equipment or a process to minimize the hazard. Process control, enclosure and ventilation are among the most efficient ways to control and mitigate chemical exposures. However, this type of control is the most difficult to achieve while working at home. Some process controls such as wet method, steam cleaning can easily be applied but the use of methods aiming to enclose, isolate the chemicals from the user or properly ventilate the workspace (general or local exhaust) often require specific techniques or equipment that are not available at home.
4. Administrative controls and training
These control measures are intended to improve users’ work practices by creating and implementing standard operating procedures (SOP), guidelines, training programs, and appropriate signage. The hazard itself is not actually removed or reduced. However, training and education about the operating procedures (handling, storage, disposal), good housekeeping programs, the maintenance of equipment, along with the awareness/preparedness in case of emergency (spills, fire, injury) and the adequate personal hygiene practices are essential to control and mitigate hazardous exposures.
5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Contrary to preconceived notions, PPE do not represent the best method for protection from the hazards but are an alternative in the absence of elaborate engineering control systems and when elimination and substitution is not feasible. PPE is considered as the last line of defence between the individual and the hazard. PPE includes respirators/dust masks, gloves, eye protection, protective clothing, and footwear. PPE should never be the only method used to reduce exposure but rather a combination with other control measures. One type or brand of PPE does not protect against all hazards. The selection will depend on the type of activities and the hazards generated and a combination of PPE is often required. Contact EHS for help in choosing appropriate PPE.
WHMIS and Consumer Products Pictograms
WHMIS 2015 pictograms
WHMIS 1988 pictograms
Consumer products symbol under the Consumer Chemicals and Containers Regulations (CCCR), 2001
Comparison of pictograms and symbols from different regulations