Always wear a properly fitted respirator when mixing ceramic glaze materials

Always wear a properly fitted respirator when mixing ceramic glaze materials

Most of us ceramic artists know there are some dangers inherent in the art form we have chosen – from inhaling raw materials in the powdered form to injuries resulting from repetitive movements. And there is so much information and misinformation out there about how to keep your studio safe that it is hard to know what to believe.


Recently, a team from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health performed a Health Hazard Evaluation on a pottery shop and came away with a series of recommendations that can (and should) be applied in even the smallest of home studios. Their findings and recommendations for staying safe are included in the May 2011 issue of Ceramics Monthly. In today’s post, I’m sharing the Studio Safety Reference from this guide. So read on and be safe! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.



As a ceramic artist, you could face many potential hazards, since your work area (e.g., your home, a small studio) may not have been designed to reduce or eliminate health hazards encountered during the art-making process.


In 2007, the owner of an independently-owned pottery shop was concerned about employees’ long-term exposure to substances used in the shop (although no health symptoms had been reported) and asked our team of investigators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to perform a health hazard evaluation (HHE). This evaluation made us realize that small studios could benefit from the information we gathered concerning potential hazards that ceramic artists may not be aware of.


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Standing while throwing can help reduce back problems from throwing.


Ceramics Studio Safety Reference


To eliminate or minimize identified hazards, we encourage (in order of preference) the use of the traditional hierarchy of controls: (1) substitution or elimination of the hazardous agent, (2) engineering controls (e.g., local exhaust ventilation, process enclosure, dilution ventilation), (3) administrative controls (e.g., limiting time of exposure, employee training, work practice changes, medical surveillance), and (4) personal protective equipment (e.g., respiratory protection, gloves, eye protection).


Even if you work in a small studio or your home, you can consider this hierarchy when looking for ways to minimize or eliminate your exposure to hazardous substances.


• Don’t eat, drink, or store food in work areas, and wash your hands thoroughly before eating to prevent ingestion of metals and other contaminants.

• Wet-wipe surfaces rather than sweeping or vacuuming (and if you must use a vacuum, make sure it has a HEPA filter). Avoid carpet use.


Air Quality


• Install local exhaust ventilation around dust-generating activities (e.g., in mixing/pugging areas), with a hood to capture airborne dust as close as possible to the point of generation.

• Allow adequate intake of outdoor air and an adequate number of air changes per hour for the work area. Since work area characteristics can differ greatly, a ventilation engineer should be consulted to determine the appropriate ventilation parameters on a case-by-case basis.

• Minimize the number of bends in the electric kiln and other exhaust ducts to improve the efficiency of the system.


Respirator Usage


• If you use a respirator or other personal protective equipment, consult the federal standards for proper use, maintenance, and storage. Refer to the OSHA respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) ( or Appendix D of the standard if your use of a respirator is voluntary.

• Employers, schools, and group studios should consider establishing a written respiratory protection program, medical evaluations, fit testing, and training on proper respirator use and maintenance (such as shaving facial hair before use and proper placement of straps), if necessary depending on the level of exposure.


best practices for ceramic studio safety

Simple things like a wheeled cart to transport heavy materials or glazes around the studio can help minimize the risk of injury.



• Incorporate a minimum height range of 27.6 inches and a maximum height of 56.2 inches for workstations/worktables, palletized pieces, shelving units, and items on carts to eliminate overhead reaching and bending.

• Store frequently used materials at waist height rather than at floor level. Use extra pallets to raise the height of cart surfaces to the recommended ranges.

• Use scissor lift tables to reduce bending and overhead reaching, and pallet carousels and collapsible carousel stands to allow access to loads from various angles.

• Eliminate lifting and carrying items weighing more than 50 pounds, and always use carts to transport heavy materials long distances.

• Provide a faucet hose extension to eliminate lifting buckets into and out of the sink.

• Provide a range of heights for pottery wheels and stools, and personalize the two heights for each user to eliminate back pain and discomfort. Use stools with lumbar support and tilt adjustment. Provide adjustable leg stools for level or tilted seats.

• Do not perform repetitive activities (wedging, throwing, and trimming) in long sessions.

Requesting an HHE for your Studio

Employees, employers, or union representatives can ask our comprehensive team of experts to investigate their health and safety concerns by requesting an HHE. Our team contacts the requestor and discusses the problems and how to solve them. This may result in sending the requestor information, referring them to a more appropriate agency, or making a site visit (which may include environmental sampling and medical testing). If we make a site visit, the end result is a report of our investigations that includes recommendations that are specific to the problems found, as well as general guidance for following good occupational health practices. These HHE reports are available online (see below).


Resources and Links


• NIOSH HHE reports:

• Read the complete HHE for the case study mentioned in this article (PDF format):

• NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. Includes recommended exposure limits (RELs), permissible exposure limits (PELs) and other information on chemical effects:

• American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) 2009 threshold limit values (TLVs®) and biological exposure index (BEIs®) for chemical substances and physical agents:

• OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs):

• OSHA Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Revised Respiratory Protection Standard [OSHA 1998]:

• (Mandatory) Information for Employees Using Respirators when not Required Under Standard- 1910.134 Appendix D:

• Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety [1998]. Materials flow. In manual materials handling.



by Lilia Chen MS, CIH; Jessica Ramsey, MS; Scott Brueck MS, CIH; Maureen Niemeier BBA. Lilia Chen, Jessica Ramsey, and Scott Brueck are NIOSH employees; Maureen Niemeier is a freelance technical writer.


This article is featured in Ceramics Monthly magazine’s May 2011 issue.
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