This article page is from a segment of the Metalsmith Magazine (1984 Summer), “Health Hazards”, discussing questions from readers about book on metalworking safety.


Dear Linda,

Can you recommend any additional good reference books to add to my studio library that would cover health hazards encountered in metalworking and their safety measures? I have your Society of North American Goldsmiths “Technical Paper,” but my work frequently involves the use of other materials. Thank you.

— Mark

Dear Mark,

There are several concise books and manuals out that would be appropriate. I will briefly review three that I use:

Artist Beware, by Michael McCann, Ph. D., (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications), 1979. In my opinion, this book belongs in every artist’s personal library, that is, every artist who wants to promote and protect his/her own long, healthy life. Michael McCann is the Founder and President of the Center for Occupational Hazards. This nonprofit organization operates the Arts Hazards Information Center and publishes the “Arts Hazards Newsletter.”

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Artist Beware is divided into two sections. The first, “General Hazards and Precautions,” makes it easy to see how the hazards that we encounter can affect the human body. In his discussion of precautions, Dr. McCann covers safe studio set-ups as well as bodily protection equipment. He provides helpful information on what to do if you have suspicious symptoms or actual illness from work-related problems.

The second section covers the hazards involved in any particular medium that is, ceramics, woodworking, sculpture. This section also has a great chapter for enamelists. Here you will find useful, easy-to-read tables about chemicals found in art materials, and how to determine the degree of harmful exposure you may be encountering in your own working environment. Chapter 3 in this section, “Relative Toxicity Ratings,” is particularly useful in helping to determine the appropriate precautionary measures to take for the amount of toxic substances in your studio. Frequently, artists make the mistake of assuming that irregular exposure to hazardous substances in a private studio does not involve any risk. This toxicity rating system ends the guesswork. Chapter 6, “Personal Protective Equipment,” is the most explicit survey of goggles, gloves, respirators and so on that I have ever encountered. This will answer any questions about what eye protection is appropriate for what process. Some bonus chapters: 15 on “Children and Art Materials” and a fantastic chapter, 7, on “Emergency First.”

This book is first and foremost geared to the individual studio artist. It is pleasant, easy to read and easy to comprehend. It is also applicable to other working situations. Highly recommended.

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Health and Safety in the Jewelry Industry, Manufacturing Jewelers and Silversmiths of America, 1983. This text is presented in loose-leaf binder format, with each section devoted to a particular manufacturing process. It is, for the most part, well organized and straight to the point. The basic orientation is towards the manufacturing jeweler or silversmith. but it is still applicable to a small private studio. The major strength of this publication lies in its very specific descriptions of hazards as listed by processes. Unfortunately, many of the results of the hazards (resulting health conditions) are not treated as thoroughly as the rest of the material. In some sections, such as casting, there is very little elaboration within the text on how to detect symptoms of the worker’s health problems. However, in the sections on electroplating, assembly & finishing, this is covered throughly within the text. Frequently the reader is referred to other source materials to provide the conclusion to a health or safety measure. I find this lack of completeness to be very frustrating. Occasionally the inadequacy of the text is compensated for by the charts at the end of the section—this is true for casting and electroplating.

Another strength of this presentation is how much emphasis is put on the responsibility of the employer for maintaining a healthy work environment. Recommendations are made for what management should do, both ethically and as required by law. Very impressive, valid arguments are presented with frequency throughout the text about the economic advantages to an employer of maintaining a healthy work environment.

This text would be a good studio reference. I find the loose-leaf format provides quick, easy access to the information.

What You Should Know About Health and Safety in the Jewelry Industry, by the Jewelry Workers Health and Safety Research Group. This booklet is put out by workers in the Rhode Island Jewelry Industry for their fellow workers. It would be a good supplementary reference but is not sufficiently thorough to stand on its own. The best way to describe it is stated on page 3: “The booklet has presented general problems, but no one knows your work place better than you do. It’s up to you to assess your situation, discover the problems and the proper steps to protect your health and safety.” It goes on to say, “Work doesn’t have to be so dangerous. Most of the safety hazards in the jewelry industry can be eliminated.”

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I found the booklet inadequate on the subjects of eye protection and acid disposal l disagree with their section on ear protection. Vitreous, kiln-fired enamel is not covered, but enamel paint is. The section on acid use is also weak. But there is still enough helpful information in the text to warrant having a copy in your studio.