In every art classroom health and safety issues and practices are important concerns for teachers, parents and students.
Unseen Dangers in Art Classrooms
When you think of art classrooms, you most likely think of students' busy drawing, painting or working with clay. It is a classroom where creativity and learning take place. However, it can also be a room where safety hazards exist and students' health can be compromised.
Many times the dangers that exist in an art class are overlooked since they may not be as apparent as those of other types of classrooms such as science rooms or labs. However, from elementary school through college, there are art rooms that contain materials or substances that are toxic or carcinogenic. Dangerous conditions exist and unsafe practices take place, often without anyone realizing the possible outcome.
Art Classroom Health and Safety Concerns
The following are examples of the many health and safety concerns of art classrooms:
- Exposure to toxic and carcinogenic materials that can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin
- Students not washing their hands properly after working with materials
- Teachers allowing eating and drinking while working with art materials
- The sink area must be kept clean and any water spills cleaned up immediately to avoid slipping on the wet floor
- Rooms must be properly ventilated to insure adequate fresh air
- Electric tools must be in good working order and be well maintained
- Teachers must watch for any exposed sores or cuts on a student's hands
- Teachers should make an inventory of all art materials and keep it updated as they are used
- Students should not wear loose-fitting clothing or dangling jewelry; they should keep their hair tied back if they are working on a potter's wheel or operating a power tool.
- Teachers should not mix dried materials or fire a kiln when students are in the classroom, as this exposes them to hazardous fumes and dust.
Tips for Keeping Art Rooms Safe
The following are a few safety tips for teachers for keeping art classrooms safe:
- Make sure each student knows the rules of safety and follows them.
- Only use materials that are safe for children to use. Make sure to read the labels.
- Give preschool and kindergarten children small amounts of art materials at one time. This reduces the amount of material they can put into their mouth.
- Hang decorative safety slogans around the classroom to remind everyone to follow the rules.
Important Resources for Art Teachers and Parents
- A list of arts and crafts materials that have been deemed as health hazards has been issued by The Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment, known as the OEHHA, of the state of California. In that state the items on the list cannot be purchased for use in schools for grades K through 6. The list contains hundreds of products. The OEHHA also provides guidelines on using products for arts and crafts safely and recommendations for safe substitutions for materials that should be avoided.
- The University of Florida provides useful information regarding Hazards in the Art Classroom that includes:
- Things an art teacher can do to help make the classroom a safe environment
- A list of common hazards found in art classrooms
- The responsibilities of the art teacher regarding classroom conditions, practices and materials
Putting good art classroom health and safety practices into effect will reduce the number of illnesses, accidents and injuries that occur each year.