This text is that
of a paper given to the Society of North American Goldsmiths Conference
in Seattle on March 28, 1998,. The citations are incomplete and will be
properly outlined in the book that is being written on this subject. Brain
Press is the publisher.
THIS IS A DRAFT COPY.
This talk briefly reviews issues of studio safety and discusses ways
of recognizing risks in the studio and reducing hazard by substitution
of materials or processes. The premise is that any reduction in risk improves
the safety conditions of the goldsmith and artist. This approach to safety
is practiced officially in European countries but is fairly new to North
America. This paper today can only touch on things, be a skim, a snapshot.
It is in fact a work in progress. The subject is a gigantic one, it feels
rather like climbing a mountain where when you crest what appears to be
the top of the rise there is yet another peak in front of one. This paper
therefore skips and minimizes many important details. The book we are
working on will address things in more depth.
I heard one story of a safety lecture where the pictures projected were
so graphic that a number of people were injured in the doorway trying
to leave. To avoid this situation I won't be showing much in the way of
It is worth noting that I am still no paragon of virtue in regard to
safety, though since embarking on this project I've improved quite a bit.
Let's put it this way, 'One may describe Utopia and move towards it without
actually being there yet'.
This report cannot offer to give you
panaceas, absolute truth, the right way to do things or anything else
liable to land us in litigation hell. A report is a snapshot, a way of
looking at an observed state of things, a kind of journalism. And you
hopefully read journalism with a jaundiced eye, a pinch of salt and so
on. So, we have done a reasonable job of reviewing literature and asking
questions. As John Henkell says 'Be very careful how and what you suggest
for safety measures: hungry (greedy) lawyers are everywhere.' (John Henkell,
personal communication, 8/27/97) Ted Rickard, a jewelry safety specialist
in Ontario told us about several low cost but acceptable ventilation options
but expressly warned me not to actually describe them to any Americans
for fear of getting sued. So-Let's not sue people sharing information
and trying to improve things. Make a better world for ourselves.
The good news is that it is immeasurably
safer to work in a jewelry shop now than it was twenty years ago. This
is due to the pioneers who paved the way in the 70's and 80's in safety
consciousness. We do, in fact have one of those important pioneers here
today in the audience, SNAG's very own Linda Edwards, who wrote the 1978
paper on Jewelry workshop safety in the Metalsmith Papers who has kindly
allowed us to reprint it today for this presentation. I will now ask Linda
to stand up and be recognized for her contributions to yours, and my safety
in the workshop. [applause]
Thank you Linda!
Here's something to aim for. A well laid out, orderly workshop, electrically
and fire safe, with low dust and few solvent procedures, with excellent
local ventilation at the appropriate work stations, the use of work clothing
cleaned frequently, lots of personal safety equipment (earmuffs, safety
glasses etc.), different heights to work at over the work day and a conscious
attitude and consciousness of safety. Choose procedures that don't involve
exposure to risks. Set things up so that you can't hurt yourself. Mark
Twain said 'If you don't lie you don't have to remember anything', we
could crudely paraphrase that to 'If you don't have an unsafe workshop
you have less to worry about'. Make safety a habit and then it won't seem
The bad news is that safety issues
are real. You can actually do damage to yourself and others by behaving
unsafely, shorten your life, go blind, need oxygen to breathe and more.
While many of the really brutal dangers such as asbestos have been removed,
there remain numerous others, and in old shops and traditional practices
lie continued risk for jewelers.
What is safety?
We might say it is acting in a manner which precludes or avoids injurious
behaviors and circumstances. That is, not hurting yourself or others presently
or in the future by doing something which causes injury, now or 20 years
down the road. Dave Arens says 'the best safety device is a careful worker'
(Dave Arens, Orchid list, Jan. 8, 1998, 'Survey')
Milt Fischbein writes: 'I think that studio safety must be divided into
a number of pieces -
- 1 understanding the hazards associated with each chemical/tool/machine
- 2 designing the studio to minimize these hazards
- 3 having safe procedures in place for each work process (i.e....sawing,
soldering, polishing etc......)
- 4 making absolutely sure that each work process is followed and that
no shortcuts are taken'. (Milton Fischbein, personal communication 1/10/98)
Small Shops and Big Shops
There is a real difference between small shops and big shops. It is a
lot more controllable to be a small shop-providing safety measures are
taken. The larger a workshop is the more power tools there are and the
more aggressive are the working processes used. Large scale production
methods in general require ever more dangerous chemicals and procedures.
We will confine ourselves to the small shop in this paper. But whether
you are a big shop or small shop you should work with OSHA and government
agencies-there is a ton of help and advice available.
Power Tools hurt you more
A few years ago a study compared the murder rates in Seattle and Vancouver.
Both, at that time had similar populations and sizes. In Seattle there
were dozens more murders than in Vancouver in the same time period. When
they looked closer they found that the assault rate was in fact fairly
similar in both cities. It turned out that the main difference was the
accessibility of guns in Seattle. While the assault rates were similar
in both cities it is a lot harder to kill someone with a knife than a
gun-hence the difference in the murder rate. In other words Canadians
and Americans were quite similar. However the more power at your fingertips
the more damage you can do-only in a studio situation we are talking about
damage to yourself. Mary Hu reports a student who was using the power
rolling mill and had two long fingernails yanked out by the roots. Ow!
I knew of a guy who literally got his head rolled through a large jewelry
factory rolling mill.-He was lucky and recovered-though he was somewhat
flat headed. Everyone reports injuries seen or experienced at the polishing
machine. Hand tool operations are less likely to hurt you-certainly possible
but its a lot harder to hurt yourself seriously with a hand tool than
with a power tool. It is because so many operations are hand tool based
that our accident rates are not all that bad compared with other industries.
When dealing with power tools always have a great deal of respect for
I have to thank my colleagues at Brain Press, Katie Harse, Tara Owen and
Dee Fontans who have helped me research and gather information. I used
the internet extensively and Katie tirelessly followed up odd questions
like 'Find me a hydrogenated oil company president who can talk about
nickel residues in oils used for processed foods'. The EPA, the Center
for Disease Control, Medical University libraries and various US and Canadian
government sources have been most helpful. We did eventually find a number
of health and safety case studies in the jewelry industry. The journals
of Occupational health and Safety Medicine proved most fruitful for this
and for some hints about the long term effects of the trade on its workers.
Information is still coming in.
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. Linda Edwards paper gives an excellent synopsis
of safety considerations. The internet has a great deal of safety information
on it. If anyone is interested in receiving a copy of a list of safety
web sites email me after the conference and I will send you one.
I have considered internet mailing lists as a form of publishing for
this project, much like a book. The
Orchid Mailing list, the Jewelry Design list, the Artmetal list, Health
and Safety Canada list were all used. A survey asking for anecdotes regarding
safety was sent to the Orchid and Jewelry Design lists. Of some 1300 recipients
about a hundred and twenty responded and their comments have been incorporated
into this paper.
Things are different now, because in the 1970's
pioneers changed the field by their efforts. The first stirrings
of health consciousness in the arts begin in the 1940's but did not take
off until the 1970's. Michael McCann, Monona Rossol and Linda Edwards
are all vitally important sources. Linda Edward's excellent work in 1978
on jewelry safety information was a major and long lasting contribution.
Her original article in the Metalsmith papers is really good and it would
be a duplication for this presentation to simply reiterate her writing
and conclusions. I refer you to her paper, which she has kindly allowed
us to reprint for today. A really great book oriented to factory work
in the jewelry industry is 'What you should know about Health and Safety
in the Jewelry Industry', put together by a union with a definite anti
boss stance, I quote: 'We have to stand together and fight for our health
and safety against a system that values profit more than worker health
and safety'. Can you apply that critique to your own workshop?
Rossol's book is absolutely superb and addresses matters in a way impossible
and impractical for this paper to do. I strongly recommend purchasing
her book for greater detail than can be attempted here. Environmental
activism, the work of unions, of insurance companies (they don't after
all want to pay out claims), the EPA, OSHA and others have all contributed
to a much safer work environment than in the past. Not to mention the
uncounted thousands working sincerely and selflessly towards small changes
to improve health and safety in the workplace. The work of these pioneers
has made a difference that is real, measurable and important. The next
time you meet one of these people you can thank them for having changing
your working conditions and significantly, enormously, improved the safety
of your workshop, almost without you knowing it.
When I was first a student in 1974 we had a bucket of loose asbestos
fibers under the soldering bench, we would take a handful, moisten it
with water to form a clay-like blob to hold things together for soldering.
This would be unthinkable today. In Germany in 1981 none of the goldsmiths
I worked with would believe me about the dangers of asbestos and we would
dip our fingers in solvents, including tri-chloroethylene for removing
pitch (this is such a no-no it is not even funny), we would use cadmium
solders, use benzene as a solvent (absolutely, but absolutely unthinkable
now-benzene is even banned from university labs with full equipment it
is such a carcinogen), we would have carbon tetrachloride available as
a solvent, not to mention investing without breathing protection or ventilation,
patinating without ventilation and on and on. All that is, in my world,
over and finished with - and it should be in yours too-anything else is
pretty criminal. At this point many of the worst hazards have at least
been recognized and named in the jewelry workshop. Just as in counseling
and much problem solving, name and describe the problem, then you can
do something about solving it.
One of the biggest issues in safety in complacency. You are used to it,
this is the way you have always done it, you don't see anything wrong,
nothing has happened so far. On the morning of the Challenger explosion
the engineers went to mission control and said 'don't fly today-we think
the O-rings will not operate at those temperatures. The NASA executives
launched the shuttle anyway arguing that with 28 perfect flights there
was nothing to worry about. Just because you have not had an accident
or become visibly sick does not mean that nothing will happen. Ask soldiers
exposed to radiation in bomb tests in the 1950's. Plan and act safely-less
evils are likely to happen to you as a result.
So avoid complacency. Analyze the existing situation, have a look at
things. And be willing to change and re-evaluate on a regular basis, once
every year or so to make sure that time and new developments haven't passed
Tradition really gets in the way for
the jewelry field. In 1975 I was shown how to mercury gild in a very dangerous
manner, in a way unchanged (except for the addition of a torch) to a procedure
described by Pliny, and to an Egyptian one from hundreds of years before
him. This is in the light of a full knowledge of the toxicity of mercury.
I can think of no other industry where such a thing would not change for
thousands of years. The jewelry industry is slow to adopt new techniques
and ways of doing things, and that attitude is costing goldsmiths their
health. You can change your traditions by analyzing and describing your
workspace and methods - then work on changing unsafe practices.
The pilots' ritual
Ever sat in a small commuter plane where you can see the pilots in front
of you? You are on the runway ready to take off and they go through a
check list, one says a word and hits a switch, the other repeats it and
does the same thing, it is a ritual, unwavering and checked by a partner.
And it saved your life, and theirs-repeatedly. Check lists can be useful
as guidelines for ensuring that things are done correctly and that you
have made no mistakes. Create rituals for things like changing your gas
tank. I have my own step by step check list/rituals when I work with gases,
do electroplating, casting and many other procedures. Writing them down
in point form can help you avoid errors. Just realize that, like many
rituals, time and circumstance changes and it may be a good idea to reevaluate
them on a regular basis.
That means that it is very difficult to isolate safety issues. They affect
each other, they add to each other, compound each other and sometimes
have synergistic effects. An example of a synergistic effect is with those
exposed to asbestos. If you smoke cigarettes your chances of getting lung
cancer from asbestos exposure are 50 to 90 times greater than a person
who was just exposed to asbestos. How you behave and what you are exposed
to in the rest of your life affects things. In this sense 'Safety' is
'Healthy Living'. You could call it an attitude of valuing yourself. Therefore
when we discuss various specific issues keep reminding yourself that there
is actually a mix of things happening.
Part of a holistic approach is to do physical exercise and follow general
improved lifestyle suggestions, low fat, high fiber, less meat more grains
and vegetables, aim for good mental health and self development etc.
There is plenty of evidence that dietary chemicals can interact with
ones that one is exposed to in the workplace and produce effects that
are far greater than the chemical would be just by itself. For example
drinking alcohol can interact with certain solvents to cause severe damage
quickly. These are called synergistic effects.
A recent article in Scientific American discussed the chemicals and dusts
that one is exposed to in an ordinary household, from carpets and household
cleaning products. It pointed out that in many cases the exposure levels
in the home may be higher than would be officially tolerated in the workplace.
So, anything you can do to lower your general chemical exposure is probably
a good idea.
Tell your doctor what you do for a living and what metals and chemicals
you are exposed to. Silver dust for instance forms black stains in the
body. Did you ever wonder what those black inclusions in your fingers
were? It can show up on x-rays if you had a lot of exposure and can cause
misdiagnoses. If you were being hired by a large jewelry company you would
be required to have a base-line medical exam to test your lung function,
and general health before starting to work so that you can more easily
decide if something in the workplace has affected you later. This is not
a bad idea for the small shop as well.
Do a chemical audit of your workshop. List everything and decide if you
need it or not. Don't forget the household chemicals. Then create a chemical
inventory so you know what is there, how much, how long it has been there
etc. If nothing else put this information on labels on all containers
with chemicals. See Rossol and McCann for labeling guidelines.
Children are particularly susceptible
to chemical exposure because of their small body size. In general it is
not a good idea to have children in the workshop. I know of someone whose
little toddler died in their arms in their workshop after drinking some
After a lot of thought I think my recommendation is; if you are pregnant,
seriously consider leaving the jewelry studio for the duration and doing
a lot of designing in pencil and other media that is not too toxic. Lets
just say that a pregnant woman transfers chemicals easily to the fetus
and that the fetus is very susceptible to such things. Metal dusts, solvents,
other chemicals, metal salts and oxides all have potential to injure the
fetus. Check with your own physician for their recommendations in your
specific case if you are pregnant. Craft Report magazine had a very good
article addressing this last year. Karenworks writes that in conversation
with her doctors, their response was 'you should be taking the same kind
of precautions before you get pregnant as you need to during pregnancy'
(Karenworks, Orchid list, Nov. 9, 1997, 'Pregnancy Precautions')
The first thought on having an accident is
usually 'That was stupid'
That's right, at least for me and from others who I have asked, the first
thought that goes through even before anything hurts is 'that was dumb'.
And, usually, it was. Most accidents (including the slow ones that get
you twenty years down the line) are stupid ones. In the light of the best
knowledge at your disposal (and it is your duty to yourself to do the
research to find out about what you are doing) act in such a manner as
to avoid accidents and threats to your health. Milt Fischbein, an engineer
with 18 years experience in gas/oil/chemical notes that 'Industrial experience
shows that the vast majority of safety incidents are a result of human
error and of the human error incidents, the bulk of those are a result
of not following established procedures'. (Milton Fischbein, personal
Never ask someone who has just had
a drastic accident "How did you do that?" Quite often they will be in
shock and literally show you just how they did it thus damaging themselves
even more. While this most frequently happens right after the accident
I heard of a three fingered woodworking instructor at a college in Southern
California who was demonstrating band saw use to a class. Someone asked
him 'How did you lose the finger?" and he said 'Like this' and promptly
took the other three off.
Be smart, work calmly and steadily, think and be conscious.
Modeling on others with the same problems
To avoid unnecessary work look for examples of people who have solved
the same kinds of problems you have to solve and see if you can adapt
some of their ideas and approaches. This means you ask around, do reading,
research to find examples you can use. This saves on mistakes. Your answers
may lie in another field than metalsmithing. For instance define the problem
"exhausting fumes generated from brazing", then figure out who has the
same problem. A number of industries do, from electronics to jewelry production.
Approaches used in another field may have application to what you are
Small Changes count
Have you noticed how these days any reduction in overall fat content in
your food is considered a good thing? That small reductions in fat consumption
in your diet add up to overall reductions in fat in your eating habits?
That is the basic idea in safety and substitutions to lower risk. No particular
magic, just a consciousness of the problem and a concerted effort to reduce
all (or most) contact with hazardous substances and procedures in your
workshop. Any reduction in contact is a positive reduction.
Information specifically addressing jewelry
studio safety can be found in Rossol, McCann, Edwards, and others.
Between 1993-96 (AJM) there were some 266 OSHA safety audits in the jewelry
industry in the US, which generated some 750 citations (and fines). When
you consider how large the US is, how many jewelry manufacturing businesses
there are and the picky nature of an OSHA violation (an extension cord
run too far to a lamp) then that is a fairly low rate of trouble. The
same thing shows in OSHA case studies, there is not that much reported
(compared with other industries). While it could imply that the jewelry
industry is relatively safe one should realize that OSHA nationally does
not require compliance of shops with ten employees or less. In California
even shops with one employee have to be fully compliant. It was however
pointed out to me that the state OSHA doesn't have the staff or interest
in going after a small shop. OSHA statistics may therefore be skewed because
so many jewelry shops have less than ten employees.
Safety and Substitutes
According to Michael Hutt, (Health and safety advisors of the Ontario
Ministry of Agriculture, food and Rural Affairs), the first rule of industrial
hygiene is 'eliminate or substitute with a less hazardous substance '
(/HSC list, Jan. 10/98) Any reduction in risk or exposure to hazards is
a positive. If you identify your processes and procedures you may be able
to find a safer substitute that accomplishes the same ends. Examples of
simple changes include switching to fluoride free fluxes or even eliminating
soldering altogether for some production applications by switching to
a fusion welder.
You are your own canary.
In coal mines there used to be caged canaries. If the coal gas built up
the canary, being more sensitive to the gas would keel over, thus warning
the miners that they should escape before they too succumbed. It is your
job to be aware of your own body and mind, you have to be the canary in
your shop. If you feel a headache or feel ill or dizzy or have skin rashes,
a sore wrist or any symptom that something may be wrong it is your own
responsibility to listen to yourself and stop what you are doing to see
what is the matter. I met a jeweler at SNAG last year who had massive
scars from wrist to elbow on both arms from surgeries to correct various
cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) problems. He told me that when he was
working, forging small jewelry components all day that he would really
'get into it' and not notice what was happening to him. One of his co-workers
told him later that he would frequently have a spasm of pain ride across
his face, the co-worker would ask him 'what is the matter' are you all
right' and he would answer 'Yes, I'm fine, nothing is wrong', not noticing
what was happening. So, be aware of your body, check yourself. There are
exercises used in some counseling methods, yoga, Tai Chi and other self
awareness methods that can be used to learn to listen better to one's
body. Your body and mind usually hints that something is the matter before
there is permanent damage. Listen to yourself.
The main exposure routes for chemicals are by breathing them in (inhalation),
eating and drinking materials (ingestion)-which can also happen when large
particles are breathed in, brought into the throat by lung clearing mechanisms
and swallowed, and by touching things (absorption). Do not eat or drink
in the workshop. If you have to have a drink use the kind of containers
with a cap on the end of a straw - this may reduce your potential chemical
contact. A friend of Mark Parkinson had his vitamins in the studio, accidentally
downed a ruby instead and searched all over for the stone before realizing
where it was. (Mark Parkinson, Orchid list Jan. 6, 98)
Smoking, besides being bad for you in all the ways you ought to know by
now seems to react synergistically with many chemicals and dusts jewelers
have been exposed to, in some cases multiplying the risk of damage really
Hygiene: wash your hands
We use our hands so much in the jewelry shop that they get exposed to
all kinds of chemicals, metals and dusts, quite apart from the physical
stresses on them. It is very important to develop a hand washing habit
to reduce contamination of yourself (mouth touching, eating etc.). Regular
hand washing and washing them thoroughly before leaving as part of your
'shutting down the shop' ritual can help reduce your overall exposure
significantly. Use a mild soap. Many people also use hand lotions of various
kinds after rinsing.
Some people use a barrier cream before starting the day in the shop.
It does however seem to wear off during the day. There is also some slight
concern that an oily barrier cream can sometimes form a paste with materials
that actually keeps the skin exposed longer than if one were not to use
Work Clothing There is a reason that people in factories wear work clothing.
It is safer. Cotton is good. I was once grinding a vise in a craft school
workshop and was using a lab coat from the shop (which I assumed was an
appropriate one) while using an angle grinder. I noticed a burning smell
and looked down to find that there was a spreading pool of flames on my
stomach-the lab coat was a nylon one and very flammable. Unthinkingly
I patted the flames out only to have molten lava-like plastic well up
through my fingers making the burn a really bad one in between the fingers.
Make sure your clothing is flame resistant in a jewelry shop. Don't ever
wear sandals or bare feet (several bad stories about folks ramming needles,
sawblades etc. deep into their toes). Steel toed shoes is a good idea
(I've met more than one person who has dropped a stake or other object
on a toe and broken it). So, good, protective footwear in the studio is
And, most important, using work clothes such as an apron, overalls or
a jump suit helps keep chemicals and metal residues in the work shop and
out of the rest of your life, and your family's life. Work clothing should
be washed regularly and separately from other laundry. Actually, frequent
washing may be a good idea. If you work with chemicals dry cleaning is
sometimes preferred in order to remove chemicals and oils that can cause
dermatitis from the clothing. (Quinn, Smith, Stock, Young, page 14). Any
small step you can take to limit your overall exposure means you are that
much safer. A lot of small steps add up to increase your safety in the
work place. A jump suit may be the best thing to use, easily removed,
washed, interchanged if you have several.
Special protective clothing is needed as well, a rubber apron for dealing
with chemicals, a thick leather apron for blacksmithing, leggings and
arm protectors for foundry work. if you will be doing anything like welding
or dust producing activity a visorless cap is a good idea. Keep the stuff
out of your hair. And use cotton or non-synthetic in case of fire or hot
things landing on it. Hair should be tied back at all times in the shop
to avoid it being caught in machinery.
You don't want clothing to get caught on equipment or in machinery (no
ties should be worn in the workshop)
Don't wear jewelry when working in the shop. It too can get caught on
It has been suggested not to wear a ring at the bench, not only to avoid
the dreaded 'degloving incident' where a ring gets caught on something,
a machine part or a hook of some kind and tears the skin of the finger
inside out but because chemicals and dusts can get trapped under the ring
and more readily cause dermatitis.
Have lots of personal safety equipment around
We have hooks on the walls of our studio every five feet or so and on
them hang safety glasses, face shields and ear muffs. When all you have
to do is reach out a hand in any direction to reach safety equipment you
will use it. Make using your safety equipment easy to do. To keep safety
glasses scratch free I keep mine in a plastic bag every time I take them
off. If they are scratched you will be more reluctant to use them. We
are used to being somewhat stingy with safety equipment, making it last
a long time, accepting an irritation with scratches on the lenses in an
attempt to 'save money'. It is better to have your equipment easy and
pleasant to use, so you don't have to resent it.
John Burgess tapes a piece of overhead projection transparency over
the front of his face shield, when it gets scratched up just replaces
it. Much less expensive that continually replacing the plastic face shield
itself. (John Burgess, Orchid list, 11/12/97, 'Pregnancy Precautions')
Personal safety equipment like this is an operating cost. Budget for
it so you can have good, scratch free glasses and other equipment at hand
when you need them.
If you have to use a respirator there is
something seriously wrong.
If you think you need a respirator to do something red flags should be
waving in front of your eyes and alarm bells ringing in your mind. If
you have to use a respirator there is something really wrong with your
ventilation system and working processes. And when you take it off whatever
it was you are afraid of will still be there, an invisible dust (such
as cristabolite investment) on all surfaces that merely walking past later
will stir up into the air so you can breathe it in. Same for chemicals
and metal fumes (which deposit as an extremely fine dust). If you are
using a respirator in your normal working space what you are admitting
is that you desperately need a proper ventilation system. A respirator
is a tool of last resort, a backup, an emergency thing. And if you are
using one make sure it is correct for your face and the chemicals and
fumes you are protecting yourself from. Probably use it outside. Talk
to your safety supply company representative, or better still several
of them. Rossol and McCann have good sections on which respirators serve
for which purposes and there is a ton of information on the internet on
the subject. Keep your respirator in a plastic bag when not in use to
help keep the filters absorption in good shape. Change the filters by
their expiry dates or more frequently if used a lot. Half face respirators
serve for some purposes. I personally like Israeli gas masks for some
things: they are built for guys with beards.
Using safety Equipment can cause risk taking
Lets take the recent sneaker controversy. Injuries and injury rates were
compared between the cheapest runners and expensive top brand name sneakers.
The rates of injury were often higher with the more expensive, engineered,
'extra-safe' sneakers. This was not because they were not safe-they were,
it is just that the psychological effect of using them was to encourage
people to behave less safely, slam the ground harder and so on, thus increasing
the rate of overall injury. Respirators too encourage people to act in
hazardous ways because they think the equipment will protect them. There
are other examples. When you use safety equipment make sure you are not
doing worse things than you were without it.
Rossol and McCann caution that some of the supposedly safer substitutes
for chemicals and processes end up being as bad or worse as the original,
an example being ceramic fibrous cloth used to replace asbestos turns
out to be horrendous as well because of the small fibers it is made of.
Both of them feel that the terpenes and ethyl glycols that have been accepted
by industry as 'non-toxic' substitutes for solvents may have hidden dangers
and lead to bad surprises in the future. Check your use of substitutes
Give yourself a grade
I am a teacher, and one of the things I do when I grade my students is
to be as objective as possible, taking into account the individuals skills,
how much they have personally developed and pushed themselves, how hard
they worked and how they excelled against their own goals and aspirations,
not just what they did to fulfill any parameters of the projects I set
them. This means that I have to judge myself by the same criteria to avoid
being a hypocrite. One has to, as an educator, be a sort of role model
as a form of continuous education. Kind of rough. So grade yourself in
terms of your safety efforts. There is no shame is a mediocre grade, merely
an indication that one can do better-you don't put yourself down for doing
one's best-that is a as good as it gets. So, assuming you are doing your
best for yourself then give yourself a grade in that regard. Then try
again. One tends to get better and improve this way. Judge yourself as
you would judge others performance given the same problem to solve or
project to carry out. And, give yourself credit. If it is an 'A' grade
then that is what it is. Enjoy!
The accident book
Even if you are not required to, keep a safety log. Besides giving you
an idea of what things need to be improved in the workshop it is a valuable
teaching aid for a new employee. It saves on repeated mistakes. You can
have it as part of a 'Right to Know' binder where you keep MSDS information
on materials in your shop and safety procedures and contact numbers.
Burns are a common hazard in the jewelry
shop. All goldsmiths get small burns now and then and sometimes larger
burns occur as well. Burns were the most common small injury reported
in the Orchid list survey (next to small cuts). Don't use oils or greasy
ointments to treat a burn first. The best treatment is to freeze a burn
as soon as possible. Burn damage keeps on going for some time after the
cause of the burn is removed and if you freeze it fast enough and keep
it cold for a while you can often limit the damage
considerably. A comment on orchid was 'If the area still tingles put
it back...' While I still like ice for the small and medium sized burns
jewelers get many EMS units now use materials like Water-Jel, a water
based gel that carries away heat rapidly and so stops the burn from continuing
deeper and yet does not cause a hypothermia hazard for the burn victim.
When that molten, flaming nylon welled up through my fingers I found
a bucket of ice immediately and kept ice on it for a number of hours.
Although it blistered I was able to work, hammering all day for three
days before they broke and by that time the skin had healed underneath.
A teacher of mine in Denmark, John Rimur was once mixing pitch in a large
pot. The whole pot tipped over spilling boiling pitch over his arms. He
was luckily only a five minute run from a clinic, ran in, they packed
his pitch covered arms in dry ice to stop the burning. After some time
they were able to remove the pitch and when I saw him he didn't even have
any scars from the incident. Without freezing the burn would have continued
on, perhaps even destroying his tendons and finishing his career altogether.
Several people have reported that they like the juice and leaves of
Aloe Vera to treat their burns. For me personally my best experience has
been with ice and keeping it cold for a long time.
Burns are avoidable if safety precautions are taken. If you are working
with fire, torches, flammable materials, hot liquids then you must set
up your workspace to avoid an accident, and if an accident happens, then
have it set up so that you don't get hurt.
Alcohol fires are reported by almost all jewelers I know who use boric
acid and alcohol as a fire scale retardant. I recommend other ways of
applying the material, such as dipping in a simmering water based solution.
Bruce Holgrain reports using powdered boric acid applied to the warmed
object to coat it to avoid the alcohol/fire hazard (Bruce Holgrain, 1/8/98,
personal communication, 'safety' and Orchid list, 1/7/97, 'Re: boric acid')
Aside from protection from sharp objects, flying chunks of metal, dust,
splashes, chemicals we have to deal with glowing materials (infrared light),
the blue flame of a high temperature torch (ultraviolet light) and 'sodium
glare'. These are the three kinds of non-ionizing radiation that we worry
Good quality eye protection against infrared radiation is recommended.
Daniel Buchanan reports a glassblower who now has '"trouble counting the
fingers on his hand. His desk lamp might as well be a searchlight. What
is sunny day to us is a dim and hazy image to him. An approximate area
or l40 x 60 degrees, right in the middle of his sight, is lowered by 90%,
which is to say the exact shape of the kiln mouth, 5 feet away (3000 oF)...and
all he has left is peripheral vision. And to think it only took ten years."(Orchid
list Jan. 10/98)
Most glasses and polycarbonates will stop the ultraviolet. The infrared
is stopped by a 'shade', a number 2 and up has been suggested by a welding
institute source. It is important that one understands that a "tinted'
lens does not offer infrared protection - only a shaded lens offers protection.
The sodium flare which is more of a problem for glass workers is stopped
by didymium glasses.
Glasses and contacts Polycarbonate
glasses are much more shatter resistant than regular glass. There are
reports of glasses shattering upon impact. There are also reports of bits
of plastic flying or polycarbonate ones into the eyes if the frames are
bent to try and fit when they are too small for the head.
If you wear glasses now you can have safety glasses with safety frames
made at the optometrist which are prescription, bifocal, whatever you
need. Some metalworkers wear polycarbonate safety glass over their regular
(or even safety) glasses. 'There are many different styles of safety glasses
that will fit over prescription glasses'. (Mark Williams, Artmetal list,
1/13/97, 'Re; Eye Safety Issues (Again))
It is advisable to have safety glasses with side shields to protect
against things bouncing in from the side of the head. They should also
fit well, particularly at the brow. Talk to your Uvex rep., they seem
very educated and helpful. They can fit glasses to all facial types.
From everything I have read and heard it is not a good idea to wear
contacts in a jewelry shop. The dust and chemicals can get stuck under
the contact and scratch the eye, some fumes can permeate certain contacts.
Ron Watts writes: 'Where I work (a chemical analytical lab) contacts cannot
be worn. That is part of your condition of employment. It is because of
the safety hazard present with acids and the fact that some insurance
policies forbid it if you want to be insured. The dust from flex shaft
tools ad the fumes from soldering can damage the eye beyond repair in
your jewelry shop]. We only have two of them so we need to take care of
them' (Ron Watts, Orchid list, 9/5/97, 'Workshop Contacts')
Use the correct type of gloves for the chemical you are using them against.
Not all gloves hold up to the same things so consult a chart to see what
gloves are suitable to which chemicals before choosing gloves. Edwards
comments on this in her paper. Even if you have the right kind of material
be aware a glove has a life span and that eventually even the chemicals
it is resistant to will be able to pass through the material to contact
Use tweezers and tongs as much as possible to keep your fingers away
from exposure to the chemicals, soaps, solvents you use. I wear my 8 inch
German, stainless steel tweezers in the center pocket of my apron, always
at hand when I need them. Keep a pair of tweezers as part of your apron
or jump suit (perhaps in a glasses case?) then you will be less likely
to use your hands when you shouldn't.
There is a real consensus that ventilation is incredibly important in
having a safe studio. You need it. There is dilution ventilation, which
is where you open a window next to you and another one elsewhere such
that air passes past you on its way out. Dilution ventilation is not generally
an effective approach.
What we really want most of the time is local ventilation, which means
a sucking device, slot or tube close to the working area that is generating
the dust, mist or fumes that need to be vented. The book 'Ventilation:
a practical guide for artists, crafts people, and others in the Arts'
by Clark, Cutter and McGrane is a very good starting place.
A fume hood is a good idea. Sometimes one can buy a surplus one at a
government surplus equipment liquidation company. You can build one as
well but you should hire a professional to do it. Use sheet metal to build
it. Have a ventilation specialist check out your plans before having anything
built. There are home-made options as well, but these too should be checked
with a specialist before installing them. Remember that the illusion of
safety can induce one to do more dangerous things than one should. Fume
hoods should be tested every time you use them with a smoke trail or soap
bubbles. I had two students who went to hospital with metal fume fever
because they did not test an extraction system before using it.
Dermatitis is a group of skin conditions that may often be contracted
by exposure to chemicals and metals. It is a real hazard for jewelers.
I knew someone once who got so bad that her hands would begin to crack
and bleed when she walked into a jewelry studio and she had to give it
up, in her fourth year of school.
Jim Zimmerman tells a typical tale, working unsafely, dipping fingers
into solvents, cutting oils for lapidary, mixing investments with bare
hands and so on. Many of these actions 'defat' the skin which then loses
its protection against other chemicals and metals. After 14 years of this
his hands started breaking out in 'water blisters' and became very painful.
His dermatologist pointed out that the hand creams he prescribed and the
working precautions were 'a way of life and not just a one-time fix-it'.
Even shampoos, dishwashing liquid, soaps, glass cleaner, changing oil
in the car, paints etc. were hazards and triggers at this point. Moving
to mechanical cleaning methods (scotch brite scrubbing) to reduce chemical
(soap-even the mild one) exposure help as well. He writes 'So take a warning
new jewelers/metalsmiths and limit what you do to your hands right now'.
(Jim Zimmerman, Orchid list, 4/12/97, 'Re: Hand damage')
It has been suggested not to wear a ring in the workshop because dusts
and chemicals tend to get caught there and then react with the skin. more
easily. As well as getting caught on things.
Quantity, quality and the individual.
The quantity of chemical you are exposed to, its concentration and the
length of time exposed all influence what the effects of chemical exposure
are. The individual, their medical history, their genes, their health
and habits also influence what the effects of a given chemical or material
will have on a person.
Cancers may be caused by materials identified as carcinogens. In general
carcinogens have 'no safe level' of exposure.
Chemical and physical agents in the workshop can cause cancer. Entering
any Californian building that houses jewelers one is struck by the warning
notices on all doors: 'You are entering a building containing chemicals
known to the State of California to cause cancer'. Frightening, and true.
Like all chemicals though, exposure, time and concentration all contribute
to the risks. You can do a great deal to lower your risks in this regard.
Asbestos exposure is at this point the best known cause of occupational
cancers and reading the monthly occupational health and safety magazine
death reports it seems to be a really major cause of death from job related
cancer, even now, years after asbestos has been recognized and removed
from contact with most of us.
There is some evidence of raised rates of stomach cancer amongst jewelry
industry polishers. Presumably this has to do with larger particles being
caught in the mucus of the upper parts of the lungs and being removed
to the esophagus by natural clearing mechanisms, where the mucus (and
contaminant) is swallowed.
Chemicals: How do you learn to respect them?
We are so used to using chemicals as ordinary materials around us that
we don't even notice them. Even table salt has an MSDS that sounds pretty
grim. Every year people gas themselves and die because they mix ammonia
and bleach to clean their houses with. Realize that you are surrounded
by them. Then there are the chemicals that are hidden in product formulations
about the house and workshop and the ones that you deliberately bring
in to the workshop. As a rule I recommend that one use supermarket chemicals
as much as possible -they are quite evil enough. Don't use industrial
strength chemicals unless you are properly equipped to deal with them
in terms of storage, fume hood and ventilation.
How do jewelers use chemicals?
We use chemicals for cleaning, finishing, etching, plating, anodizing,
pickling, sealing, enameling, wax working, casting, investing and so on.
And don't forget that metals and their salts and oxides are also chemicals.
Dust is small particles of a material. There are dusts you can see in
the air, these can be breathed in and because the particles are fairly
large they end up in the upper portions of the lungs. Some can be cleared
from the body by its natural mucus where it is bound up and brought up
into the esophagus. From there it is swallowed.
The finer dust particles, ones you can barely see and many you can't
see at all with the naked eye are the worst. They enter the lungs, go
far deeper into their recesses and can result in chronic damage. Many
dusts and even metal particles in fumes are this tiny.
Choose the least dust producing techniques and processes possible. If
possible work wet so that particles cannot become dust in the air. There
are wet belt sanders available now for working metals (and other materials)
that can do a great job (they run cold so you can hold a piece onto them
without it heating up in your fingers) and they keep a lot of dust out
of the air. When working with silicon carbide separating discs I use a
wax lubricant which binds most dust generated into a paste and keeps it
out of the air.
DX Ross, an enamelist friend of mine had her workshop set up so that
she did almost no dust producing activities. She avoided polishing by
using hand burnishing and textured surfaces. She did her sanding using
wet/dry paper in trays under a little water. A block of boat Styrofoam
was cut to shape and used to press the metal part onto the sandpaper while
she sanded. She would set up for soldering on a tray and take it outside
One of the big sources of hazardous dust is investing for casting. Investment
contains 40-50% cristobolite, a form of quartz which is many times more
likely to cause silicosis than standard quartz does. It is therefore very
important to be careful when mixing investment, quenching a flask and
removing investment. Local ventilation sucking from where you are working
is necessary. When I started insisting on this at our school after a week
we discovered a crust of investment on the mesh over the suction slits
a millimeter or so thick. This was without seeing any dust in the air
while investing and remembering that the worst particles are the ones
you cannot see. We use proper respirators and the local ventilation now.
There are cases of silicosis recorded from investing where the worker
was only exposed to the material for a year or so.
If you generate dusts, fumes and chemicals as a result of your working
methods take full responsibility for what you are doing.
Fumes are small particles of a material, often from metals that have been
melted. These may be very tiny and can be breathed in to the lungs. Metal
fume fever is a real hazard with molten metals. It has numerous names,
the nastiest of which is 'the smothers'. Metal fume fever can be caused
by zinc, copper, magnesium, aluminum, copper, antimony, cadmium, iron,
silver. The particles are so small (0.01-0/5 microns) that they stay in
the air a long time. Because they are so tiny they go deeper into your
lungs and can then dissolve more easily within your body (Rossol, p 31).
I have known a number of people to experience metal fume fever, from zinc
while casting or reticulating brass and once from copper, because they
did not use adequate ventilation. Casting brass is a particular culprit,
often because ventilation is frequently a hood type above a casting machine
and the fumes are then drawn past the workers face on their way out. So,
don't cast brasses unless you can help it, use very good ventilation when
melting or reticulating metals and if you must do it then use the correct
You get vapors when you turn a liquid into a gas, for example water evaporates
to make water vapor. The vapors jewelers worry about most are from solvents,
acids and simmering solutions. Remember that things can vaporize at room
temperature-even frozen sheets will dry on the line in the cold. Mercury
vaporizes at room temperature. (Rossol, p 30-31)
Mists are small droplets of chemicals in
liquid form. If one quenches into a pickle pot for instance a mist
is formed. It has been shown that in factory situations people exposed
to mists of sulfuric acid develop pitted enamel in their teeth ( Quinn,
Smith, Stock, Young, p 24). Mists are more toxic than vapors because they
deliver a more concentrated solution to spots in the lungs and elsewhere
(Rossol, p 31).
An organized workspace is an efficient one. And its safer too. Look at models again, look for who has to work smoothly,
accurately, safely and rapidly (often driven by profit of course). How
about doctors, surgeons, dentists. All tools laid out. Every one in its
place. Irritatingly as one gets older the things one's parents said make
more and more sense. Phrases like 'put things back where you found them'.
Mark Zirinsky describes a reorganization of a manufacturing workshop.
'Our shop foreman took all the clutter in our production area and moved
it into the hallway, then brought each item back piece by piece into storage
areas, inventory areas, work in progress areas and testing areas until
everything was neatly organized. When he had finished, the production
areas were completely bare (completely) except for a workbench, a stool,
lighting, a soldering iron and the exact number of parts needed to complete
the piece that was being worked on at that moment (average cycle time
was about 20 minutes). the result of this was that our defect rate decreased
from 4% to less than 0.5%, our average cycle time (to do the manufacturing
steps) went from 20 minutes to 8 minutes, and the assemblers went from
a 1/2 hour break in a day to 1.25 hours per day. Our production went up,
costs went down, everyone was more relaxed, everybody was happy'. (Mark
Zirinsky, Orchid list, 4/13/97, 'Re: tidy bench') And it was safer too.
Just like a chemistry lab, try and have most table surfaces empty most
of the time.
I recommend having the soldering station separate and at a height for
standing. this is because this way you can have the soldering area ventilated
more evenly from behind in a slit ventilation manner - quite effective
for a soldering station. This also forces one to change ones physical
working position during the working day which makes your work experience
I like to use tool boards, individual gray boards on which tools are
mounted, each with its place. We have used gray Mactac? (self-stick shelf
paper) and cut it out in the shape of the tools on the tool boards. This
lets users easily clean up and put things away.
Ever wonder why institutions and large companies have safety posters up
in their workspaces? It is because it works. Driven by profit, companies
would not bother doing it unless it paid off in lower accident rates.
You can get safety posters for free from your local and national governments.
We have one with a picture of a face with crosshairs on the eyeballs that
says 'Targets for Injury'. A few of those scattered around help you remain
conscious of safety in your shop.
Have lots of good lighting around, nice diffuse lighting overhead and
local lights (like desk lamps) other places where you need light. In our
teaching studio we have desk lamps mounted on the wall every six feet
or so. On my own bench I have two, one on each side to that I can position
good light anywhere on the bench surface and also can light an object
on my bench pin from two sides thus eliminating shadows. I like daylight
The yellow line on the floor
The jewelry industry is the only one where there is not a yellow line
on the floor at the door, and when you cross that line, you put your safety
glasses (and often hearing protection) on and don't take them off until
you leave the studio. I find students doing this more frequently and encourage
all to consider a move to this standard in the shop.
Your studio is an entire environment. Make it as comfortable for you eyes
as possible. Make it a nice place to be-you will do better work. We selected
blue and gray as theme colors for our teaching studio years ago and people
enjoy it. All table surfaces are gray (smoke gray) so that things show
up easily, are easy to find and there is no great contrast on the bench
top. I'm a big believer in white paint on the walls and neutral colors
Equipment should be operated safely and checked periodically for condition
and potential hazards. Keep a file of the instruction manuals that came
with it and at least once every six months check everything for wear and
hazardous conditions. Because you should have a list of your equipment
anyway for insurance purposes you might as well have that list be a log
of repairs needed etc. for the equipment. This is an example of combining
acts for greater effectiveness-take something you have to do anyway and
then make up other reasons to do the same job.
The Dead Man's Switch
Really bad, scary, wicked machines in industry have a 'dead man's switch'.
This is a device that the worker has to activate in order to use the machine.
Unless it is pressed there is no power to the machine. Ideally in order
to use the machine the workers hands and body are kept safe because they
are operating the switch. If there is an accident the worker automatically
releases the switch and the power to the machine is immediately cut off.
A relative of this is a power cutoff in the form of a foot pedal, usually
housed inside a hood so that one cannot accidentally tread on it and activate
it. One has to consciously insert the foot into the housing to press down
on the foot pedal thus giving power to the machine. If one releases the
foot pedal or pulls the foot out of the housing the machine is shut down.
We have one on the power rolling mill at the college I teach at.
I think that polishing motors are a really good candidate for foot operated
cutoff switches like this.
Getting things caught in the polishing machine
The number of polishing motor accidents reported in the survey conducted
on the 'Orchid' jewelers internets list was quite high, and if you ask
any jeweler they will have a horror story or two about a polishing machine.
Always hold things intelligently while polishing.
If polishing machines were connected to a foot operated cutoff switch
some of the damage inflicted would be eliminated as the machine would
be shut down the moment anything happened. Some jewelers like to use a
polishing motor that is not very powerful just for this reason, so that
if something happens the user can stop the machine easily. I however recommend
the foot switch instead.
The number of 'hair caught in polishing machine' incidents is truly
frightening. I have seen it myself several times. Keep your hair tied
back and under control. On the door to our polishing room is a bag of
rubber bands with a sign that says 'keep hair tied up'.
One of my students, Cornelia Ostrovitz,had her hair caught a couple
of years ago and lost a patch of hair (but not scalp) about five inches
across. She gave us an 8x10 color photo of the back of her head, a long
hank of hair and the poem that follows which are all now on the wall:
Hair vs. Machine
One second can last a long time
A violent Tear
A Head Smash against Machine
My heart took a long
time between Beats
The Doctors were amazed
I had a scalp left
Don't close your eyes
We haven't had a single hair and polishing machine accident since.
Sometimes jewelers use dust collection systems intended for wood working
on their polishing machines. This is fine as long as you don't mix woodworking
activities and metal working ones. I've seen a local ventilation hose
from a big belt sander catch fire when sparks from grinding metal ignited
wood dust in the hose. I've seen polishing machine filters catch on fire
twice from sparks thrown into them, once a nickel silver neckpiece that
was caught on the wheel and once from sanding steel.
All jewelers work with gasses, for soldering and melting, and sometimes
other reasons. Talk to your local fire department and gas supplier to
find out the storage rules for your area and to check for torch safety
rules. Different torch systems have positive and negatives to them and
your choice will depend upon what kind of work you are doing. Each will
have different safety considerations. Storage of acetylene and other gases
may affect your insurance, you should check with your insurance company
regarding your shop, its set up and what you can do to lower your risk
and hence premiums.
Several people on the Orchid survey reported fires from worn hoses and
improperly maintained torch connections and hoses. I've seen that too
a few times. Always regularly maintain and check these things. In general
test all connections for leaks every time you change something in the
system, avoid oils on gas fittings (can spontaneously combust from oxygen),
keep cylinders chained up, never have a main valve on more than 1/4 turn
so you can turn it off quickly in an emergency, find out the rules for
handling your particular system and follow them We post ours.
It is important that you get trained, licensed professionals to do,
or at least to guide, inspect and put their own stamp of approval on any
gas line work your do. At least get the work inspected by the fire dept.
Make sure you follow any city codes and government regulations. As an
example of the kind of shop alterations that are potentially dangerous
Kevin Eva writes: ' copper pipe and fittings should never be used for
acetylene service. They form a coating of copper acetylide on the inside.
Copper acetylide is a dangerously sensitive explosive. The danger comes
when someone tries to adapt equipment, or decides that it will be safer
to keep the cylinders outside the shop or lab, and pipe the gases in using
copper, same as used for propane. Normal tubing for fixed acetylene installations
is stainless. (Kevin Eva, Orchid list, 2/11/96 'Re: Acetylene and copper')
Propane sinks so it tends to pool at the feet, find the stairs and go
down in the basement until it finds the pilot light on the water heater.
Pipe propane in from outside or use less than a 5 LB tank indoors - test
it and turn it off religiously.
Hydrogen is a gas that some jewelers use. It is very flammable and needs
In large cities (and in smaller ones) many trade jewelers have switched
from compressed fuel gasses in tanks to 'Water torches', that is a torch
system that breaks down distilled water ( or 'special' water with additives)
to make hydrogen and oxygen for the torch flame. this produces a very
clean torch flame. Besides having a clean, small flame ideal for repair
work and general goldsmithing a major advantage for the trade jeweler
is grounds for lower insurance premiums because no fuel gas is stored
on the premises, only water. Some water torches use additional chemicals.
Ken Sanders says that in his torch the chemicals used are potassium hydroxide
(similar to Lye) and Methyl ethyl ketone or alcohol or acetone to remove
water from the gas (Orchid Jan. 10, 98)
Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) requires careful use, it is considered hazardous
Some torches us a methanol in the flux that is added to the gas one
solders with. Markus Ellermeier writes that methyl hydrate (methanol)
is quite dangerous. A doctor told a colleague of his he would go blind
if he continued to use it in his torch flame. (Marcus Ellermeir, Orchid
lit, 4/25/97 'Re: Methyl Hydrate')
Have a fire plan, ask your fire dept. for advice. Keep the appropriate
extinguishers around and in good shape. Mount them near exits. Talk to
your fire department.
Moving and sitting: ergonomics
How you move, sit and work is important. Talk to an office furniture supplier
and your OSHA offices about ergonomics and your working position. There
is a lot of information free from government and on safety and ergonomic
sites on the internet.
Carpal tunnel is one of many kinds of Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs)
and Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) are chronic injuries that result
from repeated actions and can cause intense pain and suffering. Surgery
may result from some injuries. If you are sore when you do something then
do something else for a while and maybe talk to a specialist about how
you work to figure out less damaging ways of doing things.
It has been suggested by ergonomics specialists that tool shapes should
be different for different people and jobs. A blacksmith I met had filed
all his hammer handles where he holds them so that when the fingers were
curled around the handle they touched the palm, thus not straining his
hand and wrist when working. It may be that new tool designs are necessary
for repetitive jobs.
Don't do the same thing for too long without
Any action repeated over and over again has the potential to injure the
joint where it is repeatedly flexed and stressed. Vibration injuries sometimes
called 'White finger' can occur to machine operators and polishers. Try
and arrange your jobs so you work in different ways and use your body
differently during the day.
I've heard that a ten minute break performing a different activity every
45 minutes helps avoid this kind of joint damage.
Work at different heights.
One of the themes that recurs in ergonomic analyses of jewelry factories
is that much damage could be avoided by having different working heights,
that jewelers often perform the wrong task at the bench pin height because
that is the main height available for them. Some tasks should be done
at waist height and others elsewhere. particularly if doing the same job
over and over again all day, as occurs in a production situation it can
help dramatically to work at different heights during the day.
My current bench, which I made about two years ago has several heights
to it, the normal just-under-the-armpits height for the bench top and
bench pin, to my left a working area some five inches below that, to my
right an area even lower, at upper abdomen height (for wax working for
example), and a clamp on, rock solid ring holding system called a bench
mate. I highly recommend this system. If you can substitute an effective
holding device like this to hold items hard while filing, setting and
so on then you have just saved your holding hand the stress of doing that-very
important in a production situation. This is set lower than my bench pin.
I have several of the attaching plates for it around, one at 45 degrees
on the left, one lower on my left. Then there is a table that slides in
(part of with bench mate system) designed to hold a pitch bowl at the
correct height. I have a second table as well on which is mounted a Panavise?.
That works out to about seven different working heights I can easily reach
from my chair. The bench forms a U-shape around me.
Theresa Voigt in Calgary has a back injury and changes her working height
numerous times in the day. She has an interesting bench pin attachment
that gives her a height to stand at and use the bench pin as well. Many
machinery operators are required to stand at their station because one
is more alert while standing. I deliberately have my soldering station
separate from my workbench and at a comfortable standing height for use
so that my workshop layout forces me to change position fairly frequently.
This also allows the soldering area to be separately vented, which can
be difficult to do comfortably at a bench. I recommend this in your shop
plan. While it may not be as efficient as an all in one workbench it is
a healthier and more rewarding method of working because you get to change
your immediate surroundings and position during the work day.
Our bodies react to metals, their dusts, salts and oxides. We need certain
amounts of most metals in our bodies - but not too little or too much.
Metals have 'concentration windows', that means that too little contact
may be damaging and too much is really damaging. The exposure window can
be very small in some cases-it is easy to have too much contact with some
metals. Of note is that exposure to multiple metals can result in interactions
between them which result in greater damage than exposure to a single
metal alone. An example is the interaction of cadmium and zinc or the
ability of lead to displace calcium ( a metal) and thus affect the nervous
system (Waldron, p 13).
One of the concerns is self dosing of metals in the form of supplements,
there have been several cases of chrome poisoning from this. Have a look
at what you are consciously ingesting as well.
Again, you are exposed to metals by touching them, breathing or ingesting
their oxides and dusts and at higher temperatures their fumes. The worst
metals to have around include cadmium, nickel, antimony, beryllium. Let's
pick one of these to discuss briefly.
Nickel fumes are a proven carcinogen and one of the principles of dealing
with carcinogens is that no amount of exposure is safe. Studies in different
countries show an excess risk of nasal sinus, lung and larynx cancer in
nickel refinery workers, though this risk is not noted as higher for those
working outside refineries (Waldron, p 34). In 1998 in North America it
is still normal for jewelers to alloy their own nickel white gold with
a commercially supplied pre-alloy containing nickel. This practice is
in my opinion unsafe and at some point will be unacceptable.
As well as being a carcinogen in the form of fumes from the melt (and
reticulation) nickel is proven as one of 'the most potent' of skin sensitizers,
that is contact with it or its salts can cause various kinds of dermatitis
and make one more susceptible to developing allergies to other metals.
Waldron writes 'All those who handle nickel or its salts are liable to
be at risk' (Waldron, p 34)
Increasing allergies to nickel and other metals have been noted in Europe
and North America in recent years-even silver and gold. As a result Europe
and Japan are banning most nickel alloys (including nickel white gold)
which will affect the ability of US manufacturers to export their jewelry.
The reason that refiners in North America make nickel white gold is to
make more profit, it costs less than palladium white gold to manufacture.
This will no doubt change as North American manufacturers find their products
barred from the European and Japanese markets. An interesting note is
that many coins are made from nickel silver (an alloy usually made of
copper and nickel. People therefore may have a fair bit of skin contact
with nickel and cases of contact dermatitis among people handling coins
have been noted. Nickel has a powerful 'bleaching' effect on metals it
is alloyed with, as little as 5% nickel in a copper alloy can make it
a white metal.
It dusts and filings are also hazardous. Nickel salts are commonly used
Nickel is found in much stainless steel and this is used in fashion
earring posts. A recommendation from dentists is not to have children's
ears pierced until all orthodontic work has been finished to help avoid
nickel allergies later in life. Other concerns include body piercing jewelry
as a cause of nickel allergy. Some piercers use kitchen grade stainless
steel, which contains a great deal of nickel. Only surgical steel should
be used and even that has been linked to metal allergies. Even tiny traces
of nickel from the manufacturing process found on niobium wires used for
body piercing have caused importation problems into Europe.
Another, and perhaps more troubling source of contact (and may possibly
be a cause of the increased nickel and other metal allergies in the population)
is the use of finely divided nickel as a catalyst in hydrogenating oils
(Waldron, p 33). Anyone eating processed foods (and most processed foods
contain hydrogenated oils-check your labels) are then apparently exposed
to nickel through this route. After speaking with the head of a company
which makes hydrogenated oils it appears that no detectable nickel is
in the oil that particular company produces-that is not above .5 parts
per million. According to the nickel MSDS children may drink a maximum
of 0.04 milligrams of nickel a day in their water as. This is far above
any hypothetical amount left in the oil from the company I spoke with
but there is still some concern in my mind in this regard.
As Rossol says, "all solvents are toxic'. (p84 Rossol) My recommendation:
do not use solvents unless absolutely necessary. Set up your work processes
to avoid solvent use. The kinds of solvents found in workshops have become
less unpleasant than in the past. Xylene, tri-chloroethylene, methylene
chloride, butyl acetate and many other toxic solvents used to be common
fare in the jewelry studio. Try not to use procedures that require you
to use solvents.
An example of how things have changed is with benzene, once found in
many jewelry shops by itself or as an additive to toluene or other solvents.
Benzene is now an absolutely banned substance for our purposes. It is
even banned from many university labs as too toxic and greatly carcinogenic,
also causing anemia and attacking the bone marrow. It may be most readily
encountered as a component of gasoline and motor fuels. (Waldron, p 47)
If you have to use solvents use the least nasty method first. Abrasive
scrubbing can sometimes work. Then try a vegetable oil (if removing grease),
then paint thinner, isopropyl alcohol, denatured alcohol, acetone. Gloves
and local ventilation should also be used. Use tweezers to pick things
up and move them around-just like a photographer uses tongs to keep their
fingers out of the chemicals.
Use water soluble materials whenever possible. An example of a successful
substitution is the recently released 'Conductor', an acrylic paint based
copper conductivising paint for making non-metals conductive for electroforming
on. The previous conductivising solutions used butyl acetate and other
solvents. Water based polishing compounds help reduce dependence on solvents
for degreasing after polishing. Citrus based solvent replacements are
useful but there are questions about their long term safety. Ethyl glycol
solvent replacements are far more suspect- Rossol says there are so many
that you need to research the specific one you want to use. There are
other method of degreasing as well. Steam, carbon dioxide blasting and
ultrasonics are some. Another newer method is 'Ionic cleaning', of which
the Speedbrite? company has one of the first units out there. This uses
a proprietary mild detergent mixture and direct electric current to rapidly
clean jewelry. It appears to do a polishing job as well and several people
have reported that they feel it replaced cyanide bombing to some extent.
Jewelers have traditionally used sulfuric acid, nitric and hydrochloric
as well as mixtures of the last two as aqua regia. All are dangerous to
have around. All require splash goggles, gloves, rubber aprons, fume hoods
to use them. Note that a basic rule when carrying bottles of acid is always
keep one hand under the bottle at all times, I heard of someone carrying
a gallon of nitric acid down a stairwell without doing that, the bottom
dropped out, soaking them in acid. By pure chance they happened to be
standing under an emergency shower as it happened. They pulled the shower,
the water flooded over them and there they stood, naked and hairless as
their clothes fell off in shreds-but unburned.
There is very little need for concentrated acids in most jewelry workshops
any more. Pickles and etchants can be provided by using salts that form
dilute acids, electro-etching allows one to use very dilute acids and
even plain salt water to etch many metals with and acid testing of metals
can be replaced to a great extent by electronic metal testers.
If you have to use acids: use proper precautions and a fume hood, use
them dilute, use hardware store ones rather than industrial strength,
treat them with care.
Hydrofluoric acid has caused a number of serious injuries amongst respondents
to the Orchid list survey that I put out. You should not use it or have
it in the workshop. That's it.
Salts that dissociate
Many acids have now been replaced by salts that dissociate in water to
form a constant dilution of acid, such as sodium bisulfate (sparex?) which
gives you a steady sulfuric acid content or ferric chloride which does
the same for hydrochloric acid. Although sodium bisulfate pickle is very
safe by comparison with mixing straight sulfuric acid solutions it too
can be replaced. A weak solution of alum works well, does not seem to
outgas as much-jewelers used to use it-that is why we call it pickle!
Some jewelers are using citric acid solutions and report good results,
a little slower. Laura Hiserote says it takes 2-3 cups for a medium sized
half crockpot. ( Orchid list Oct 6/97). Vinegar and a little salt work
One can use dilutions of nitric as low as 2% or ferric chloride to etch
with. If you electro-etch this can triple the speed of etching. Salt water
etching is described in the Summer 1995 Daniel Smiths Art Supply catalog.
Photoetching with KPR can be replaced fairly effectively by using printed
circuit photosensitive resists like Dynalith 2000, or peel and stick films
like Tec-200 or Zacryl. Zacryl is developed with a 10% solution of sodium
carbonate in water. Photo silk-screening is another option people are
You are your own safety committee Review in writing your understanding of safety rules for each of the procedures
you use in your shop. Make job lists and write out the rules that you
think belong to them. It helps to do this with a friend or two. Conduct
your own safety audit. Create a binder for your 'Right to Know Book',
a place where you keep safety information, MSDS's and so on. Buy Rossol's
and McCann's books. Be aware and smart.
This brings us to a close. The lecture was intended as an introduction
to principles and starting points for addressing safety in your studio
and to encourage the idea of using substitutions as a strategy for a safer
working environment. Specific procedures (such as lapidary work, stone
setting, wax working etc. will be addressed in detail in a future publication.