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Pottery Studio Hazards
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended as a reference only. The hazards listed are only a small percentage of the hazards presented when working with clay, glazes, and chemicals. It is the responsibility of each/every person working with these materials to know the risks involved. Always refer to the MSDS, accompanying reference materials, and/or OSHA, for any/all materials you will be handling.
Working with clay and glazes in your pottery studio carries certain health risks due to hazardous materials in them. Knowing what you are working with, and how it can affect you, is an important component of being a potter.
It doesn't matter if you are small hobbyists, or large production potter, the risks are the same... just in different doses.
Today, we will touch on some of the most common hazards, however; you should always research each and every component of your working materials.
The most common risk in pottery may not be the hazardous materials as you would believe. Poor use of body mechanics leads to back, neck, and knee injury, repetitive motion can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, and trip hazards as in cords, buckets, equipment and such... well, I think you get the picture.
Creating a safe environment in your studio area is critical to your health and well-being! Making a few simple changes can lead to long term benefits to your body.
Here are a few things to consider;
- Use a hose to fill buckets instead of lifting them in/out of the sink
- Store heavy items such as clay and glaze buckets at waist height to reduce risk to back/knee injury
- Raise/lower table height to accommodate your height. Wedging tables are at the correct height when you dangle your arms and your fingertips just touch the working surface. As for working tables, adjust them according to your position... working from a stool or standing.
- When wiping down surfaces, use a wet wipe to minimize dust. This goes for the floors as well... spritz with water before sweeping, or if you vacuum, make sure you have the correct HEPA filter installed. You should ALWAYS wear a mask or respirator when creating dust.
- Wear gloves, aprons, and any other PPE (personal protective equipment) when handling hazardous materials.
That being said, let's touch on a few of the more common materials used in pottery that carry significant health hazards.
Silica is ever present in clay and materials containing clay (which includes glazes.) Inhalation of silica dust can cause;
- Silicosis (a non-reversible fatal lung disease)
- Lung Cancer
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Kidney Disease
**Talc, Flint, and Kaolin carry the same risks and are very similar to Silica**
Oxides used for creating glazes, coloring slip, engobe, sigillatos, etc... are hazardous and can enter the body in several ways.
Inhalation, absorption and/or ingestion of metal oxides including, but not limited to, cobalt, lead, cadmium, chrome, nickel, lithium, manganese, vanadium, selenium, barium and potassium, can cause serious health risks.
Again, this is just a small sample of hazards in the studio. Please research all materials you will be using!