Common Physical Hazards in the Arts
Some of the more common physical hazards in the arts are listed and summarized below. Consult EH&S at (412) 268-8182 for specific instructions to limit exposure.
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Working with electrical tools, hammering, or even playing loud music for prolonged periods can produce ear-damaging sounds. Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and untreatable. Warning signs of overexposure include temporary ringing in the ears or difficulty hearing after work. Increases in blood pressure or stress-related illnesses may also result from excessive noises.
OSHA Standard 1910.95 specifically addresses occupational noise exposure. Permissible Exposure Limits depend on length of exposure and noise intensity (measured in decibels-dB). Hearing protection appropriate to the level of exposure and duration should be worn when performing tasks that could result in damage to the inner ear. Seek assistance from EH&S for a decibel reading and to determine risk.
OSHA requires employers to ensure that employees use appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, splashes of molten metal, etc. Tasks common to woodworking, metallurgy, and so on, which have the capability of producing airborne particles or splashes, fall into this broad category of hazards. Defer to EH&S when deciding on the proper personal protective equipment for these jobs.
Shops and theaters should be constructed in such a way that the danger of falling from catwalks, ladders, etc. is prevented. Fall protection, either passive or active, is critical for preventing injury. Passive fall protection includes hand and guide rails, catch platforms, and any other fixture which does not require special equipment or active participation from the worker. Active fall protection systems consist of harnesses, fixed-point anchors, horizontal lifelines and/or conventional beam and trolley systems attached to a stable overhead structure. Passive fall protection is preferential if the hazard cannot be engineered out. Consult EH&S for specifics on OSHA’s fall protection standards.
Ergonomic injuries result from performing repetitive, forceful, or awkward tasks over an extended length of time. Most of these injuries can be prevented by listening to your body and not pushing your limits. Frequent breaks and modifying a task can also help. As always, look to EH&S for guidance in how to best protect yourself.
Vibrations from handheld tools can transfer harmful energy to the user and may produce a tingling sensation in the hands and arms. Such a sensation may disappear or might be converted to a more serious condition, called “white hand” or “dead finger” syndrome, where the person loses circulation to the hands resulting in numbness, paleness, possible ulcerations, and gangrene, if circulation is not restored. Keeping tools in good condition, lowering the amplitude of vibration, and taking breaks can reduce the risks of using these tools.
Lifting and carrying heavy loads is also an ergonomics hazard. Lifting with the legs and resting will help to prevent musculoskeletal fatigue, strain, and injury.
Many materials and practices used by artists have the potential to present fire hazards. Flammable and combustible gases/liquids, such as acetylene gas or linseed oil; sparks generated by welding or cutting processes; use of laser cutters or engravers; etc. all have the capability of producing a fire. In regards to fire hazards, OSHA has several standards involving the handling and storage of flammable/combustible materials; practices which could result in fire (i.e. welding, cutting, brazing); as well as proper fire prevention measures. In addition to OSHA standards, EH&S’s fire safety program complies with the codes and standards of the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA).
Proper storage, use, and disposal of flammable/combustible materials are essential for preventing ignition. Keep flammables/combustibles away from all sources of heat, flames, and sparks. No more than 5 gallons of flammables should be outside of a flammables cabinet at a time. Flammables for disposal should be stored in designated containment. Personal protective equipment should always be worn when performing activities which could generate sparks. Make sure that your area has a fire extinguisher appropriate for putting out fires related to the materials being used or processes being undertaken. All "hotwork,"such as welding, brazing, cutting, soldering, and dust or mist producing activities, on campus requires a permit. Speak with EH&S to determine your specific fire protection needs.
Radiation can either be ionizing or non-ionizing.
Ionizing radiation is high frequency, high energy radiation that has the potential to damage DNA and disrupt cellular processes. Examples include x-rays and emissions from radioactive metals, such as uranium. Though rarely present in the arts, certain glazes and metal enamels may contain trace amounts of materials that produce ionizing radiation. The orange-glazed Fiestaware ceramics are a prime example.
Non-ionizing radiation includes microwaves, infrared light, UV light, laser radiation, etc. and is more common in the arts. Though non-ionizing radiation has a lower energy, there are still hazards associated with its various forms. Infrared light is produced with the heating of metals or ceramics and can damage the eyes and skin. UV light sources include the sun, welding and carbon arc lamps, and such light is well recognized for its ability to cause eye damage and even skin cancer to welders exposed to it. Lasers, such as those used for laser-cutting, also produce forms of non-ionizing radiation, in addition to other hazards, depending upon the laser type and use. Speak with Andrew Lawson of EH&S if you plan to use a laser for any reason. Specific eyewear and protective clothing are necessary to prevent passage of the damaging light wavelengths.
Activities involving the heating and/or cutting of metals, such as welding and soldering, can produce toxic fumes and gases. Potential for exposure depends on the type of welding/soldering, the materials being welded/soldered, the location, and the use of ventilation controls. Acute exposure to metal fumes and gases can result in respiratory irritation, dizziness and nausea. Workers who experience these symptoms should immediately seek fresh air and obtain medical attention. Prolonged exposure may cause lung damage and various forms of cancer, including lung, larynx and urinary tract. Other health effects may include metal fume fever, stomach ulcers, kidney and nervous system damage. Manganese fumes can cause Parkinson’s–like symptoms. Gases like helium, argon, and carbon dioxide displace oxygen in the air and can lead to suffocation, particularly in confined or enclosed spaces. Toxic carbon monoxide gas can result from burning.
To reduce exposure, substitute a lower fume-generating or less toxic metal when possible. Some of the toxic metals to lookout for are aluminum, antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silver, tin, and zinc. Local exhaust ventilation systems should be used to remove fumes and gases from the worker’s breathing zone. Ventilation should be kept as close to the source as possible to remove the maximum amount of fumes and gases. Do not weld or solder in confined spaces without ventilation. Respiratory protection may be required if work practices and ventilation do not reduce exposures to safe levels. Speak with Andrew Lawson or Mark Banister, if you believe you might require respiratory protection.
Design & Fabrication Hazards
*As always, seek EH&S assistance when dealing with these hazards.*
Laser-cutters (Address questions to Andrew Lawson)
Laser-cutting devices are versatile tools used to cut or drill wood, plastics, and metals. These devices are economical, efficient, and easily automated; however, several physical hazards are associated with these design tools. American National Standards Institute (ANSI) generally classifies laser-cutters as nonhazardous, Class 1 LASERs when operated according to manufacturer’s instructions. Yet the enclosed lasers are generally Class 3B or 4 LASERs, which emit high levels of energy and are hazardous to the eyes and skin. Therefore, only trained personnel should perform maintenance and other procedures that involve breaching the enclosure.
Cutting or drilling certain materials, such as treated woods, plastics, or epoxy resins, may produce Laser-Generated Air Contaminants (LGACs). These LGACs may be gaseous or particulates and may pose health risks to those exposed to them. Examples of LGAC’s include benzene, toluene, HCl, and other airborne hazards. To control the production of LGAC’s, proper ventilation must be used to reduce or eliminate personnel exposure and to safely exhaust these by-products. Consult EH&S and your User’s Manual when determining the proper ventilation and routine maintenance schedule.
Laser-cutters also use high intensity beams of light, which can pose a fire hazard depending upon the flammability of the materials being cut. Some materials easily ignite and the flame has the potential to destroy not only the machine, but the building in which it is housed. Check with EH&S for advice regarding fire safety and the proper fire extinguisher to have on hand.
3-D Printers (Address questions to Michael Patrick)
While desktop 3D printers have made rapid prototyping and small-scale manufacturing easier and more accessible, they are not without their hazards. In some 3D printing processes, thermoplastics are heated, nozzle-extruded and then deposited onto a surface to build the object. As a by-product of the process, nanoparticles (ultrafine particles, or UFP’s, less than 1/10,000 of a millimeter) are emitted. For a 3D printer that uses a low-temperature polylactic acid (PLA) feedstock, 20 billion particles per minute can be released, while a higher temperature acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) feedstock can release 200 billion. Nanoparticles are of concern because they are very small and can interact with bodily systems, including the skin, lungs, and nervous tissues. Exposures to nanoparticles at high concentrations have been associated with adverse health effects, including total and cardio-respiratory mortality, strokes and asthma symptoms. Since most 3D printers do not have exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, placement of the printer and selection of printing materials must both be carefully considered. Contact EH&S for a risk assessment.