Nancy LT Hamilton
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Safety issues are often overlooked in the jewelry studio. Many people are more focused on learning new techniques or making beautiful jewelry than with safety but, the reality is that you can go blind, end up with permanent lung damage, break limbs, scalp yourself, poison yourself, set yourself, your home, your studio on fire, kill yourself or others and many, many other horrible injuries. So, read this article, read other people’s articles, talk to professionals, read MSDS sheets, read those instructions and think, think, think!
The general goal of a safe studio should be obvious: keeping you and others safe for the present, as well as in the future and protecting your home and studio. How you go about making a safe studio starts with understanding the tools and materials that you are working with. Be aware of the hazards inherent in each process and set up appropriate safety precautions. Your goal is to reduce the risk associated with each action.
The three big rules: If you hair is long, tie it up! No long flowing sleeves. No long or dangling jewelry. Why? Long hair has been ripped from peoples heads, along with their scalps. Others have been strangled by dangling jewelry/scarves. Ripping off a sleeve and the arm in it has also occurred. Power tools like electric drills, buffing machines, grinders, etc. are potentially dangerous tools when safety is not a prime consideration.
Eye protection and lung protection also needs to be considered when operating power tools. Is it throwing off dust, steel particles, chips of wood? If so, wear a mask and safety goggles.
Please see my webpage on Ventilation for setting up a fume ventilation system and ideas for a particulate ventilation system.
Please see the Safety Hazard Information from MSHA on the dangers and handling practices of Acetylene gas. Also, see my site on soldering for more torch and gas information. Ventilation for soldering fumes is essential! Also, certain metals give off toxic fumes. Please see my page on ventilation.
Wear a dust mask when sanding, buffing or drilling. Decide on what type to wear depending on the type of dust. When drilling shells, glass, pearls, etc. drill them in a small tray of water or keep them wet. The dust from these items (as well as others) is very dangerous to your lungs. The water will keep down the dust and keep the material cool. Make sure that the tool you are using will not electrocute you! A flex shaft should be okay as the electrical element is in the motor. Don’t dip the entire handle in, just the drill bit.
Sanding: Use wet/dry sandpaper and keep it moist. Polymer clay can be sanded with damp wet/dry as well as glass, stone and shell. I also wet the item being sanded. Wear a mask for added protection. Always wear a mask if sanding dry.
Which mask to choose? Well, it depends on what you are doing. A designation of “N” means that it is not to be used with products containing oil. “HE” is High Efficiency, “P” is oil proof, “R” means it’s resistant to oils and can be used for up to 8 hours with chemicals and pesticides that contain oil. Generally, a N95 is sufficient for most dust. There are exceptions though. Please read all warnings on container and the MSDS for the product you are working with. BTW, the 95 in N95 stands for 95% efficiency. There are 100% efficient masks available. If the substance is a skin or eye irritant you should wear a full face mask.
N95 with air flow valve. Here is the FDA’s page on N95’s. People with facial hair or children should not wear the N95 because of fit issues. Please see the FDA’s page (above) for more information.
If you are doing a lot of sanding or finishing, adequate ventilation should be supplied. There are dust collection systems available but they are very pricey. Types rang from the Dura Bull polishing cabinet at about $350.00 to elaborate systems in the thousands. I installed a strong kitchen fan over my soldering area and a window fan in my window, with the air being sucked out, for sanding and buffing ventilation. Not the perfect situation but, better than nothing. See my page on Ventilation for some information on dust collection.
You wouldn’t shower with a live hair dryer so why would you not wear a mask while sanding? One more thing to remember: the smaller the particles the deeper they go (in your lungs).
MSDS – Material Safety and Data Sheets
These sheets are mandated by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). What the MSDS are are information on the properties of a given substance. The primary purpose of these sheets is to inform those that work with the material and those that treat exposure to that material. The MSDS provides consumers with information on the potentially harmful effects of that particular product. The MSDS, besides alerting you to the dangers (or not) of a product will also explain how to store, dispose of and how to safely handle it.
“The best book on safety in the arts is ‘The Artist’s Complete Health and Safety Guide” by Monona Rossol. Close on its heels are the volumes ‘Health Hazards Manual for artists’ and ‘Artist Beware’ by Michael McCann.” Quote from The Jewelry Workshop Safety Report.
Provide adequate ventilation for tasks like finishing, sanding and soldering (there are other techniques and materials that require ventilation too). Anti-fatigue mats provide relief for your back, feet and hips. Desk heights should be considered to reduce back strain. A good chair is a good thing. An apron will protect your clothing from damage.
Set up a safe studio. Place handles of rolling mills and presses out of the way. Can you reach the fire extinguisher if there’s a fire? How do you exit the studio in case of fire? Is there a first aid station nearby? Are electrical cords out of the way? Before you start, survey each area and ask yourself: what are the safety issues involved in this procedure?
Ganoksin articles on safety: A draft (text from a paper given to the Society of North American Goldsmiths on March 28, 1998 by Charles Lewton-Brain and A Studio Safety Evaluation by Charles Lewton-Brain and Linda Edwards, March 28, 1998.