Rules for Safe Crafting
Coming Up for Air: Ventilation
Fumes and dust can be hazardous. Even substances that don't smell bad or wouldn't cause a problem in a large room can be dangerous in a small space. When you plan a project, read the labels and look for any cautions about ventilation. (It's a good idea to work in a well-ventilated area anyway. It's more pleasant and helps keep you alert.)
In some cases, however, special precautions need to be taken with regard to ventilation. Wood dust, for example, may seem harmless, but in large quantities it can be harmful. Power tools like sanders often come equipped with dust catchers and these should be used. Certain hardwoods and plywoods actually contain toxic chemicals and a special mask should be worn when working with them. Ask questions about safety precautions where you buy your lumber.
Another ventilation hazard you may not think of is the dust from dry clays. Some of these are toxic as well. Again, know your materials and read labels carefully. If you're not sure about any materials you're working with, contact one of the organizations listed later in this chapter and find out.
When evaluating any ventilation system, you need to make sure it works two ways -- that it takes out old air AND brings in fresh air. The best solution is to work outside. Windy conditions would be unsafe, of course, but on a nice day, sanding, sawing, painting, mixing, and dyeing are best done outdoors. If you must work indoors, an open window might be enough. Just make sure you have a source of fresh air and a way to remove hazardous fumes and dust from the air.
Keep your work area clean and remember to vacuum (not sweep) the area when you are finished. You don't want to kick up any more dust than necessary. A wet mop can also be used to clean up fine dust.
Safe Handling of Paints, Solvents, and Chemicals
If you are a teacher or purchaser of arts and crafts materials for a school, you may be prohibited from purchasing any material with a chronic hazard warning label for use in pre-kindergarten through grade six. Check all labels carefully.
If your child appears to be having an allergic reaction to a substance, discontinue use and remove him from the area. Observe and if symptoms do not subside, or if they worsen, call your physician immediately.
Most of the crafts in this book use non-toxic substances and in many cases, there are nontoxic substitutes for many toxic materials. But how do you know which is which? Well, the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) has instituted a voluntary labeling program that makes it easy for consumers to identify non-toxic products. Look for one of those labels you can rest easy.
If you will be using materials that are toxic, you'll need to observe some safety precautions each and every time:
Make sure you use the right substance for the job.
Never mix chemicals without first knowing that it's safe to do so.
Read labels carefully and pay special attention to any safety precautions listed.
Ventilate the area well. Take frequent fresh-air breaks.
Wear eye protection when handling chemicals and know what to do if any chemical you are working with gets in the eyes or on the skin. Generally, you'll need to flush the eyes thoroughly with water, so keep some fresh water nearby or work near a water source.
Cover the skin. Wear rubber gloves. Wear long sleeves and pants. Be aware that some substances are only irritating to people who have allergies. What may not bother you may bother someone else, and children are especially susceptible. Look for symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes, itching, or rashes.
No smoking while crafting!
Open and close containers carefully. Always replace the cap after you've used a material.
Pay attention to proper storage instructions. Usually directions will say to keep chemicals in a cool place out of reach of children and pets, but read the label for your particular product.
Buy only what you need, so you're not storing a lot of chemicals.
Pay attention to symptoms of exposure: eye irritation, dizziness, light-headedness, and/or headache. If they appear, discontinue use of the substance and leave the area. Call a physician if symptoms persist or worsen.
Dispose of toxic materials according to the directions given by the manufacturer. If you're not sure, contact your local waste disposal contractor or agency. Make crafting safe for you, other critters, and the environment.
Have the name and number of your poison control center and physician posted in a convenient place and in large, readable print.
If you'll be using a mask, make sure it's the right type for the substance you're using. The wrong type could do as much or more harm than using none at all. Check labels on both the substance and the mask.
Protect cuts or wounds by using bandages and covering them with gloves or clothing.
Don't store flammable materials near heat, sparks, or flame.
Don't heat any substance above the temperature specified on the label.
Some crafting materials, like ceramic glazes and paints, contain lead. If you'll be working with children, look for substitutes that don't contain lead. If you must use lead-containing products, make sure you know how to use them safely and handle them yourself.
There's no reason you can't use chemicals in crafting if you're careful and follow these common-sense precautions.