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Health & Safety Checklist                                
for Art Schools,
Studios and Workshops
Michael McCann PhD, CIH

also:   Arts, Crafts & Theatre Safety

Monona Rossol



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Dr. Michael McCann is one most eminent writers
on health and safety in the arts. 
He became interested in safety issues in printmaking in 1974 
during a visit to a silkscreen workshop for 
children in New York City. 
McCann was intrigued by this great new printmaking process - 
favoured by Warhol - 
but developed a headache within half an hour of his print studio visit; 
he realized that through unprotected exposure
to the cellulose thinners in screen inks and solvents 
children attending the silkscreen class were put at risk. 

A scientist by training Dr. McCann became immediately aware that artists' curiosity about
materials and processes had a serious downside: chemicals, materials, and processes
(some highly toxic some less so) are more likely to be used with professional safety
precautions in a science lab or in industry, whilst artists and art schools frequently consider
these in a much more haphazard and often blase manner. A 1980 study conducted in
collaboration with the National Cancer Institute provided statistical proof of a link between
the premature deaths of artists and the use of toxic materials.

In 1974-75, Dr. McCann wrote a series of 7 articles for Art Workers News,
which was then compiled as the first edition of Health Hazards Manual for Artists.
The 6th edition of this book, which has sold over 80,000 copies, will come out later this year.

In 1979 Dr. McCann published a more extensive book, Artist Beware, based on his findings,
a key text which is currently in its 3rd edition.
Michael McCann is also co-author of the UIC
Online Health and Safety in the Arts Library

Checklist for Art Schools and Departments
In more than 80 inspections of art schools and university art departments that I have done
over the last 20 years, I have found many problems related to use of more toxic art materials
than is necessary: inadequate ventilation, poor storage and handling of art materials,
lack of eyewash fountains and emergency showers, improper waste disposal procedures,
incorrect selection of personal protective equipment, and more. However, the major problem
I have found is lack of a formal health and safety program. Such a program would establish
proper health and safety procedures and have an ongoing way of ensuring their enforcement.

The following checklist is a self-evaluation tool for art schools and art department to
determine the effectiveness of their health and safety program. This checklist also includes
basic questions about precautionary measures. It is not intended to be comprehensive or to
ensure compliance with OSHA regulations.

Answers in the negative indicate a program deficiency.

Health and Safety Program

Reprinted from
Art Hazards News, vol. 20 no. 2, 1997

1.  Is a vice president or comparable official responsible for the program?

2.  Has the president issued a health and safety policy statement?

3.  Is there a health and safety official responsible for implementation of the program?

4.  Is there a budget for correcting health and safety hazards?

5.  Is there a health and safety (H&S) committee? 

6.  If so, does the H&S committee have representatives of the following groups?
Administration/ Teaching staff / Technicians/ Maintenance staff/ Students

1.  Are there regular inspections of all studios?

2.  Is there an approval mechanism for introducing new chemicals and processes into
  a given studio?

3.  Is there an inventory of hazardous chemicals?

4.  Are there material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for all hazardous art materials? 

5.  Are MSDSs stored centrally and in studios where they are used?  

6.  Is there a procedure for reporting and investigating health and safety problems?

7.  Is there a procedure for reporting and investigating accidents, illnesses and spills 
of hazardous chemicals (including near misses?

8.  Are deadlines established for correcting hazards?

9.  Are there emergency procedures for the following? 
Fires in a studio
Spills of flammable and toxic substances.
Evacuation of buildings (including regular fire drills).
Medical emergencies.

10. Is there education and training in the hazards and precautions of art materials 
and processes for the following groups? Staff. Students.

11. Is there a medical surveillance program for staff and students? 

12. Is there a health and safety manual for staff and students?

13. Are there procedures for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the 
H&S program?

1.  Are students forbidden to bring in their own art materials?

2.  If not, are they required to buy from an approved list?

3.  Do teachers and technicians enforce the above procedures? 

4.  Are open studios supervised during regular hours?

5.  Is there a written procedure for students working unsupervised?

6.  Is there a written contract specifying permitted materials and penalties for non-        
compliance for students in individual studio spaces?

1.  Are the least toxic chemicals available being used?

2.  Are water-based products used whenever possible?

3.  Are liquid products used when possible to replace powders?

4.  Are chemicals purchased in the smallest practical quantities?

5.  Is there proper storage of art materials? (e.g., flammable storage cabinets,                
compressed gas storage, separate storage of oxidizers, concentrated acids, etc.)

6.  Are all art materials properly labeled with contents and hazards, including 
student containers?

7.  Is there adequate ventilation for art processes producing airborne contaminants?

8.  Is food, drink, and smoking banned in all studios?

9.  Are all containers covered when not in use?

10.  Are sources of ignition (e.g., flames, sparks, static electricity, etc.) 
eliminated around flammable and combustible materials?

11.  Are all floors, storage rooms, etc. kept clear of combustible materials and 

12.  Are fire extinguishers or exits blocked?

13.  Are combustible materials, waste materials, and rubbish stored in approved 
containers and emptied daily?

14.  Are oily rags, paint rags, and similar materials subject to spontaneous
combustion placed in approved oily waste cans which are emptied daily?

15.  Is welding done in a properly equipped and approved area which is free of 
combustible materials?

16.  Are dusts wet mopped or vacuumed, not swept?

17.  Are spills cleaned up immediately?

18.  Are electrical machinery and power tools properly grounded?

19.  Is electrical wiring installed according to the electrical code and maintained 
in good condition?

20.  Is fixed wiring used instead of flexible cords?

21.  Is there a lockout/tagout program for maintenance of machinery?

22.  Is personal protective equipment (e.g. goggles, respirators) supplied by the 

23.  Are there procedures for determining the need for and proper selection of 
personal protective equipment?

24.  Is there training in the proper selection, fitting, use and maintenance 
of personal protective equipment?

25.  Is there a hearing conservation program in noisy areas?

26.  Are there proper procedures for disposal of waste hazardous art materials? 

27.  Are old art materials and equipment removed and disposed of properly?

28.  Do studios have the following standard equipment?
Hand washing facilities
Appropriate fire extinguisher
Emergency communications system
First aid kits

29.  Do studios have the following approved equipment where needed?
Eyewash fountain
Emergency shower
Safety cans for solvents
Oily waste disposal can
Machine guards for machinery
Ground fault circuit interrupters

To contact Dr Michael McCann: