Health and Safety in Ceramics

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Health and Safety in Ceramics

Health and safety can often be a really contentious issue in ceramics and when we recently launched our glaze sparked some debate in my DMs, that's for sure! 

My approach with ceramics is one of focusing primarily on education and being personally well-informed with the materials we use; I believe each of us independently need to be schooled on precautions to take in our unique practices. The best way to be informed, in Aotearoa at least, is to request and read the safety data sheets for the materials that you use in your practice.

A safety data sheet outlines the aspects and properties of a material and includes sections like how to handle and store the material, its toxicological properties, and first aid measures if the material comes into contact with your skin and eyes or is inhaled/ingested. It may also include the reactivity of the material as well as a description of its physical appearance. The properties of the material are listed in another section, such as if it's water soluble and what its boiling point is. 

The most critical part of a safety data sheet is the personal protective equipment (PPE) section which states what the manufacturer or importer recommends the user wear while dealing with the material in various forms. My recommendation is that for each material you have in your studio you have an in-depth read of the sheet to familiarise yourself with the precautions to be taken and potential risks that come with using the material.  

The reason I go with this approach is because just as everyone makes unique pottery, each one of us also has a different appetite for risk. Hard and fast rules don't work for my practice (and this is often the tact taken when pottery students are taught) as I want to know why something is 'good' or 'bad' and be fully informed. There are also varying levels of exposure in our industry; the level of exposure of a hobbyist potter who perhaps creates one a week, compared to myself who is in and around pottery materials five days a week for extended periods of time is vastly different. 

Education via fear mongering or through stating broad sweeping statements that group all materials into the same category simply does not work for me. I'd love to see a cumulative shift in the pottery community (both in Aotearoa and globally) towards self-responsibility for our well-being through personal education, trusting that each of us does so vigilantly and therefore doesn't require monitoring. Back to the glaze claw DMs...when an individual potentially disagrees with the safety practice of an established and informed potter, it's important to remember that not all materials in use are disclosed on social media (naturally!) and their primary prerogative is to personally seek out knowledge of the safety measures required. 

As a supplier we have a commitment to offering the safety data sheets for all the materials we stock. Feel free to email us if you'd like a copy for specific materials, we also have copies available in store and are currently working on getting them uploaded onto our website. As always, drop us a line if you have any questions or insights that may broaden our thinking on the realm of health and safety in the world of ceramics!