Separating Work and Home

Often craftspeople start out making craft objects in their living space, a kitchen, a living room, and sometimes continue working in them even when they have grown to the point that they need a separate studio.It is not wise to share one’s living and family space with workshop space.

Usually there are chemicals, tools, equipment, processes, sounds, materials, wastes, dusts and so on that are unhealthy to be exposed to that are produced in a work shop. If you have these in your living space as well your total exposure increases greatly and your body does not get a chance to recover from any stresses it is experiencing. Your ‘body burden’ will grow (the body burden is the amount of chemicals that are stored in your body and accumulate in your fat or bones).

Managing your workshop space

It is a good idea to have your office, too, in a separate room than your workshop. This is to decrease your overall interactions with your workshop materials and processes. Your house is generally quite full enough of chemicals and dusts without you adding to the exposure problem. Remember, too, don’t do living space things in your workshop: eating, smoking and drinking are all not recommended in the shop.

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There are some crafts that are inherently safer than others, a person knitting for example does not encounter the same threats to health that a cabinet maker would. You should consider carefully what you do and what your particular health hazards are in deciding how to separate your workshop and living areas.

Physical Space

If possible have your workshop in a separate building than your living space. A garage is reasonable. Make sure your workshop has sufficient ventilation for what you are doing with it. Ensure that any emanations from the shop are not sucked back into your living space by air intakes on your house.

If your studio is in an attached garage or a basement room you have to careful about ventilation and where the make-up air comes from, especially with gas heat in your home. Jim Binnion writes “If the fan in your soldering (exhaust) hood is pushing more air out of your shop than there is fresh air coming in from the outside the fan will pull the air it needs backwards through the flues of the (gas fired) heater and water heaters. This can fill your shop with carbon monoxide and other residue from the gas flames. If you heat your shop or water with gas fired appliances please be careful with your exhaust fan design.” ( I Attempted to build a ventilation system But…, Jan. 17, 00)

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Work Clothing

People in factories wear work clothing because it is safer. It protects the user in the shop from materials and dangers such as fire as well as keeping the studio’s dangers away from their living space.

Using work clothes such as an apron, overalls or a jumpsuit helps keep chemicals and material residues in the workshop and out of the rest of your life, and your family’s life. A jumpsuit may be the best thing to use, as it is easily removed, washed, changed if you have several. Work clothing should be washed regularly and separately from other laundry. Frequent washing may be a good idea. Safety experts consider dry cleaning essential in order to remove the chemicals and oils that can cause dermatitis (Quinn et al. 14). Tests have shown ordinary washing removes only half of contaminants such as mineral or cutting oils in a machine shop setting (Kinnersly 186).

While we generally think of the workshop hazards coming into your home from the shop, sometimes things go the other way, and your ‘home’ goes to those hazards. Children and pets can endanger themselves in a shop, and easily bring back contaminating chemicals or dusts into the living space. Children are particularly susceptible to chemical exposure because of their small body size. In general it is not a good idea to allow children into the workshop. I know of someone whose little toddler died in their arms in their workshop after drinking some cyanide solution. You need strict rules about access to the workshop, how to behave when there, and also about touching anything without permission. If children have even occasional access to the workshop, all power tools (and noxious chemicals) should be locked away and stored high up when not in use. You don’t want the responsibility of a mangled child upon your head, so set boundaries and rules and store those hazardous tools and chemicals safely. It takes only a second to have a irreversible tragedy on your hands, your liability and your conscience.

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As well as children, chemical exposures may affect the elderly more seriously, because their ability to “transform and detoxify chemicals is likely to have declined” (Spandorfer et al. 9).

And Wash Those Hands

We use our hands so much in a craft shop that they get exposed to all kinds of chemicals, material residues 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.). Washing your hands regularly during the day, and washing them thoroughly before leaving, as part of your “shutting down the shop” ritual, can help reduce your overall exposure to chemicals significantly. Use a mild, pH-balanced soap to wash with. Some suggest avoiding bactericidal soaps to avoid breeding bacteria resistant to bactericides. Don’t bite your nails, and wash under them with a short, stiff-bristled brush. Many people also use hand lotions of various kinds after rinsing. Waller suggests that you apply a hand lotion twice a day to replace skin oils that have been removed, even if you were only dipping your hands in water (15).

Things to remember:

  1. Have your workshop separate from your living space.
  2. Consider ventilation and make-up air issues
  3. Do not share living and eating space with workshop processes.
  4. Use work clothing and wash it correctly.
  5. No children or pets in the shop.
  6. Wash Those Hands

Cited:

  • Jim Binnion, OrchidI Attempted to build a ventilation system But…“, Jan. 17, 2000
  • Kinnersly, Patrick. The Hazards of Work: How to Fight Them. London: Pluto Press, 1973.
  • Quinn, Margaret, et al, eds. What You Should Know About Health and Safety in the Jewelry Industry. Providence, RI: The Jewelry Workers Health and Safety Research Group, nd.
  • Spandorfer, Merle, et al. Making Art Safely. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993.
  • Waller, Julian. Safe Practices in the Arts & Crafts: A Studio Guide. 2nd ed. New York: College Art Association of America, 1985
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