Safety with clay

Inhaled porcelain dust can be fatal over time. Protect your lungs when cleaning, sanding or direct sculpting porcelain!
Keep Dust Under Control
Dust, for potters, can be a very serious problem. Many of the materials we work with can have adverse effects on our health if inhaled long-term. Our respiratory system (including the little hairs in our noses and sinuses) can deal with small, infrequent amounts of dust in the air. But activities such as mixing clay and glazes put more dust into the air than our airways can filter out. Over long periods of exposure, silica and alumina (the most common components in clay dust) can cause serious lung problems and scarring if proper safety equipment is not used during high-dust activities.

Dust from ordinary clay and several other materials contains some free silica that is too fine and heavy to be expelled from the lungs. Over time this can cause fatal silicosis if breathed often enough. Never carelessly produce dust.

To avoid raising dust, we should use only wet cleaning methods. Vacuum sweepers, brooms, and brushes do not filter out the fine problematic particles, but simply make them airborne so they are inhaled easier. Never leave scraps of clay or slip where they are walked on.

Dust masks should be used if and when dust cannot be avoided. Dust masks must fit well and they must be specifically designed for very fine dust. Many masks are sold in drug stores that do not qualify. Use only a NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approved masks rated for fine toxic dust. They are not effective if they do not fit well. Persons with a beard cannot depend on the effectiveness of a dust mask.

Keep food and drink out of the studio, do not hold tools in your mouth, and do not chew on your fingernails in the studio. When material particles are going to be stirred up, use a respirator or dust mask. When working with glaze materials, use latex or rubber gloves. Also wash your hands thoroughly when you are done.

Dust Clean-up Tips

  • Clean the rims or jars and containers before closing to prevent dried buildup.
  • Wipe down work areas with a wet sponge, and rinse the sponge frequently.
  • Clean up spills before they dry.
  • Don’t sweep floors with a broom; wet floors down and then mop.
  • Studio or work space floors should be non-porous, such as linoleum, and sealed if they are concrete.
  • If you use a vacuum, it should be equipped with HEPA-type exhausting filter that traps particles 0.3 micron in diameter and larger.
  • Clean greenware when it is still damp.

Some Basic Safety Tips

  • Do not smoke, eat or drink when working with ceramic materials.
  • Do not wear contact lenses when working in dusty environments. Dust particles may become trapped between the lens and the surface of the eye.
  • Wear a smock or apron when working with ceramic materials, especially glaze materials, in order to prevent the spread of irritants or toxic materials. The smock or apron should be left in the work area. Wash them regularly and wash separately.

Material Handling Tips

Keep in mind that ceramic materials should not be inhaled or ingested. Even so, ceramic materials can be handled safely with the proper safety equipment and a few precautions.

  • Do not use any utensils that will later be used in the kitchen.
  • Use rubber or latex gloves when working with colorants and glaze materials.
  • Do not handle materials used to produce ceramics when you have open cuts or wounds.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly when you are through working, even if you used gloves.
  • Be sure to put away materials where small children cannot reach them. If there is an accidental ingestion, call a doctor or your local poison control center, listed with emergency numbers in the front of many telephone books.

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