Glass Studio Safety Hazards

One day, when my daughter was in Kindergarten, she explained to the other kids in sharing time that “My mom hides in the basement and cuts herself with glass.” Needless to say, the teacher was a bit concerned until she found out what I do for a living! Yes, glass artists do get cut a lot. There are also other hazards we need to watch out for, some that you may not have even thought of yet.

In this series of blog posts we will explore a variety of hazards common in glass studios and look at ways to minimize hazards to yourself and other people in your studio. Jon Rusho, an emergency management professional and EMT has graciously agreed to share his research with us.

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Every work place has it’s own set of potential hazards. Glass studios are no different. For some, the potential danger of working with glass itself can be enough of a hazard to stay away. In actuality, if you know what the hazards are and how to reduce them, the glass shop is no more dangerous than any other workplace. In this series of blog posts, we’ll look at a variety of hazards common in the glass shop, look at ways to reduce them and how to respond if you or someone else in your shop is injured. (Please keep in mind, these posts can not take the place of a formal evaluation of your own shop by a safety or industrial hygiene professional.) Let’s take a look at some of the common hazards and preview our future posts on mitigation and response.

Repetitive motion injuries:

Any time you repeat the same task over and over, you run the risk of repetitive motion injuries. In an office environment, just sitting and typing can cause repetitive motion injuries. What are some tasks you repeat in your glass shop? Cold working? Steel cables with crimp beads? Cutting? Drilling? Do your wrists ever feel like they’re ringing after using a rotary tool? All of these can be repetitive motion injuries.
Flex Shaft Grinder

Lacerations (cuts):

Probably what people think of as the primary hazard of working with glass–getting cut by glass. The good news is that often time glass cuts are very clean and don’t leave debris in a wound, unlike splinters from wood. One of the hidden hazards is glass bits that cling to your clothes or shoes that you track around. Later those same bits may be ‘found’ by your bare feet. We’ll look at potential injuries and what you should and should not do (grabbing a relatively clean cut with your dirty glove is a bad idea). We’ll also talk about when you should go get stitches.

Noise:

Firing a kiln is virtually silent, but all of your other tools aren’t. Grinding, cutting and polishing can be pretty noisy. Exposure to sounds can cause short-term and long-term hearing loss. Hearing loss due to repeated exposure, even to low-level noises, can start to cause hearing loss. Often times, you can moderate this loss by using appropriate hearing protection. Be careful, though. You might try wearing your MP3 player in the shop so you have something to listen to. If those ear phones aren’t blocking the shop sound and you just crank up the volume, your music might cause you hearing loss, too.

Dust:

Working with glass can produce microscopic glass dust. Finding it’s way to your lungs, it can cause silicosis and other respiratory issues. But what about those polishing agents? As you get to finer and finer grit, if they become airborne, you can inhale them. We’ll examine the difference between simple masks and respirators to help protect your lungs.

Electricity and water:

Chances are you have a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interruptor) outlet in your bathroom to protect you from electric shock. But do you have any sort of protection on your wet polishing equipment or your tile/glass saw? Chances are you use water in some step of your cold working. Unless you work everything by hand (setting you up for repetitive motion injuries), you’re probably using power tools as well. Water in these settings can conduct electricity. If there is a problem with the electrical connections in your tools, you run the risk of electric shock or electrocution.

Flying glass:

You’re working along with your tile saw cutting a bottle. The blade catches and flings small glass particulates towards you. Are your eyes protected? What about the rest of you? Your skin provides great protection for your body, but unless you’re working with your eyes closed (not a good idea), your eyes need protection. So, what do you do? Use your normal glasses? Safety glasses? Safety goggles? Full-face shield? A combination? We’ll look at what you need to be safe when working with glass and the power tools that occasionally send it flying your way.

Glass Tile Saw

Burns:

There’s an old saying in chemistry labs: hot glass looks the same as cold glass. Unless the glass is molten and glowing reddish-orange, it usually looks the same as cold glass. If you’re unfortunate enough to touch it, you’ll find out the hard way. But there are other hazards in your shop, like the kiln itself. During the height of summer, your glass shop might be very hot between your kilns and the outside temperature. So you want to be comfortable working, and you wear shorts to the shop. You accidentally take a step back and your leg rubs against the hot outside surface of a kiln. Ouch! We’ll look at sources of burns, types of burns and what to do about them.

Chemicals:

If you’ve ever ordered chemicals, chances are you either received a copy of a Safety Data Sheet (SDS, or formerly a material safety data sheet, MSDS) or directions on how to obtain a copy. Federal law in the United States require these documents be available to employees that work with or are around chemicals. You may be a one-person operation, but you should know about these useful tools and how they can help you understand and mitigate the risk certain chemicals pose to you when you use them. We’ll look at what Safety Data Sheets can tell you and when you need additional information and/or training.

Show safety:

Indoor and outdoor shows have hazards, too. Burns from lights at indoor shows, electrical hazards from fraying electrical cords and cuts from broken glass can happen at indoor shows. Outdoor shows can put you at the risk of sunburn in the summer and hypothermia during colder months. Dehydration can happen at both types of shows. Have you thought about bugs and dogs at outdoor shows? We’ll look at ways you can plan for, prevent and respond to hazards at shows.

Outdoor show booth

First Aid Kits:

Up to now, all of our topics have focused primarily on the hazards. Now, we’ll look at what resources you might need to have to respond to an accident in your glass shop. Do you need a simple box of adhesive bandages? Do you need gloves, gauze pads, roller gauze bandages, eye washes, burn gels, splinting materials or medications? It depends on what you’re doing in your glass shop. You might also have certain legal requirements to have a certain amount of first aid supplies if you have other people in your shop or are teaching.
The goal of these blog posts isn’t to scare you away from your work. Rather, we want to make sure you’re thinking about ways to make it safer.

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Guest Author: Jon Rusho

Jon has been involved in Emergency Management for over a decade. He is a certified Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT) in the State of Utah and a Certified Diver Medical Technician (DMT) through the National Board of Hyperbaric and Diving Medical Technology. Jon is also a Divers Alert Network Instructor Trainer for their diving-specific first aid classes. His day job involves earthquake hazards in the State of Utah including responsibility for safety and emergency preparedness for the College of Mines and Earth Sciences at the University of Utah. In a nutshell, safety planning and responding to emergencies is his passion.

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