All University Art Studios shall adhere to the requirements stated in this policy and all related programs indicated.

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Authority and Responsibility

Faculty are responsible for:

  • Attending required training programs offered by Environmental Health and Safety;
  • Ensuring University of Chicago students are properly trained in the safe use of art materials and/or equipment;
  • Following all University of Chicago’s Art Studio Safety Policy requirements; and
  • Ensuring University of Chicago students follow all University of Chicago's Art Studio Policy requirements.

Environmental Health and Safety is responsible for:

  • Notifying affected departments of changes to regulations or procedures.

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Plaster, stone, lapidary, self-hardening clays and paper mache are commonly used to sculpt.


The medium used for sculpting at the University of Chicago includes Hydrocal plaster and casting plaster.

Hazards Associated with Plasters

  • Dust generated from mixing plasters may be irritating to the eyes and respiratory system;
  • Silica sand and vermiculite added to plaster for texture are highly toxic by inhalation and shall be used in moderation;
  • Plaster dust absorbs water rapidly from any moist surface it comes in contact with and can be very irritating to the skin, eyes, or respiratory system;
  • Carving of plaster may pose hazards to the eye from flying chips;
  • When casting body parts in plaster, severe burns may result from the heat that is produced during the setting reaction; and
  • Careless use and storage of tools may also cause injuries.

Safety Precautions When Working with Plasters

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with plasters:

  • Mix all plaster under a ventilated hood;
  • Wear a NIOSH-approved filter face piece when mixing plasters;
  • Vacuum or mop plaster dust so as to not generate dust;
  • Always carve or cut in a direction away from your body;
  • If a tool falls, do not attempt to catch it;
  • Wear NIOSH-approved safety goggles when chipping plaster;
  • Move all heavy objects using safe lifting techniques. Objects shall be lifted using the legs by bending at the knees and not at the waist; and
  • Do not cast body parts unless provisions have been made for heat dissipation. Provide a barrier between the skin and the casting material.


Stone carving typically involves chipping, carving, grinding and polishing using hand and electric tools. Stones typically used at the University of Chicago include limestone and marble.

Hazards Associated with Stone Carving

  • Sandstone, soapstone, and slate are highly toxic by inhalation since they contain large amounts of free silica;
  • Serpentine, soapstone, and greenstone may contain asbestos; and
  • Carving of stone may pose eye hazards from flying chips.

Safety Precautions When Working with Stones

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with stones:

  • Do not use stones that may contain asbestos unless you are certain that the piece does not contain asbestos. Contact Environmental Health and Safety at 773.702.9999 to have stones sampled prior to use;
  • Select stones that have a lower content of free silica such as limestone;
  • Wear NIOSH-approved respirators with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters when carving all stones;
  • When working on a stone that contains high concentrations of silica, apply a fine water spray over the sculpture while carving to reduce the generation of dust;
  • Ensure that proper housekeeping occurs to keep dust levels in the air to a minimum. Do not dry sweep;
  • Wear NIOSH-approved safety goggles when chipping stone;
  • Wear a full-length smock or coveralls while working in the studio. Smocks or coveralls shall be left in the studio and washed frequently. Dust on clothes can be brought home and pose a health risk to family members;
  • When using hand carving tools, always keep your hands behind the tool and carve or cut in a direction away from your body,
  • All electrical tools shall be double insulated, properly grounded and connected to a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI);
  • Wear hearing protection when using noisy hand tools; and
  • Move all heavy objects using safe lifting techniques. Objects shall be lifted using the legs by bending at the knees and not the waist.

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Painting and Drawing

Painting and drawing materials consist of pigments mixed with various vehicles such as water, oil, wax, egg yolk, casein, resins and solvent solutions. The primary hazard in standard painting techniques is the accidental ingestion of pigments due to eating, drinking or smoking while working with paints. Ingestion may occur through inadvertent hand-to-mouth contact or by pointing the tip of the brush with the lips.


Pigments are used as colorants in painting and drawing. Many pigments are inorganic and come from common minerals. Pigments may also be organically manufactured in a laboratory.

Hazards Associated with Pigments

  • Methods such as spraying, heating or sanding may cause a potential for inhalation of toxic pigments;
  • Lead and other toxic metal-containing pigments are common in painting and drawing products. Lead pigments can cause anemia, gastrointestinal problems, peripheral nerve damage, brain damage in children, kidney damage, and reproductive system damage;
  • Some of the inorganic pigments, in particular cadmium pigments, chrome yellow and zinc yellow are known or suspect human carcinogens and may cause lung cancer;
  • Other inorganic pigments may be hazardous including pigments based on cobalt and manganese; and
  • Chromate-containing pigments such as chrome yellow, zinc yellow, and cobalt can cause skin irritation.

Safety Precautions When Working with Pigments

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with pigments:

  • Obtain a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) on your paints to find out what pigments you are using. This is especially important because the name that appears on the tube of color may or may not truly represent the pigments present. Manufacturers may keep the name of a color while reformulating the ingredients;
  • Do not use lead-containing or carcinogenic pigments. Use the least toxic pigments possible;
  • Use tube paints and commercially available inks when possible. Avoid mixing dry pigments;
  • If dry pigments are mixed, do so inside a glove box (a box with a glass or Plexiglas top and holes in the sides for arms) or inside a laboratory-type fume hood;
  • If a glove box or exhaust hood is not practical, wear a NIOSH-approved toxic dust respirator when mixing dry pigments;
  • Wet mop and wipe all surfaces when using dry pigments;
  • Never use lips to point the end of the paintbrush;
  • Eating, smoking, and drinking are prohibited in the studio; and
  • Avoid using dishes, containers, or utensils from the kitchen to mix or store paints and pigments.

Water-Based Paints

Water-based paints include watercolor, acrylic, gouache, tempera and casein. Water is used for thinning and cleanup.

Hazards Associated with Water-Based Paints

  • Acrylic paints contain a small amount of ammonia. Some sensitive people may experience eye, nose, and throat irritation from the ammonia;
  • Acrylics and some gouaches contain a very small amount of formaldehyde as a preservative. People already sensitized to formaldehyde may experience allergic reactions from the trace amount of formaldehyde found in acrylics; and
  • Casein paints use the protein casein as a binder. While soluble forms are available, casein can be dissolved in ammonium hydroxide which is moderately irritating through skin contact and highly irritating through eye contact, ingestion, and inhalation.

Safety Precautions When Working with Water-Based Paints

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with water-based paints:

  • Avoid using sodium fluoride, phenol, or mercury compounds when adding preservatives to paints;
  • Use a window exhaust fan or open a window while using acrylic paints;
  • Use a window exhaust fan to provide ventilation while mixing casein paints using ammonium hydroxide;
  • Never use lips to point the end of the paintbrush;
  • Eating, smoking, and drinking are prohibited in the studio; and
  • Wear gloves, goggles, and a protective apron when handling ammonia. An emergency eyewash shall be available when handling ammonia.

Non-Water Based Paints

Oil paints, encaustic and egg tempera use linseed oil, wax and egg respectively as vehicles, although solvents are often used as a thinner and for cleanup. Turpentine and mineral spirits (paint thinner) are used in oil painting mediums, for thinning or for cleaning brushes. Alkyd paints use solvents as their vehicle. In addition, many commercial paints used by artists also contain solvents.

Hazards Associated with Non Water-Based Paints

  • Solvents can cause defatting of the skin and dermatitis from prolonged or repeated exposure;
  • Acute (all at once) inhalation of high concentrations of mineral spirits, turpentine vapors, and other solvents can cause narcosis, which can include symptoms of dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, loss of coordination, and respiratory irritation;
  • Chronic (over a period of time) inhalation of large amounts of solvents could result in decreased coordination, behavioral changes, and brain damage;
  • Chronic inhalation of turpentine can cause kidney damage, respiratory irritation, or allergies;
  • Ingestion of either turpentine or mineral spirits can be fatal;
  • Turpentine can also cause skin allergies and be absorbed through the skin;
  • Epoxy paints may contain diglycidyl ethers which are irritants that may cause bone marrow damage and are suspect carcinogens; and
  • Epoxy hardeners may cause skin and respiratory allergies and irritation.

Safety Precautions When Working with Non Water-Based Paints

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with non water-based paints:

  • Replace turpentine or ordinary mineral spirits with the less toxic, odorless mineral spirits;
  • Use a window exhaust fan to provide ventilation. Set up easels approximately three feet from a window that has a fan exhausting at work level pulling the solvent vapors away from your face. The rest of the window should be blocked off so that contaminated air does not re-enter the room. Techniques such as turpentine washings require a lot of ventilation because they result in the evaporation of large amounts of solvents in a short period of time;
  • Wear neoprene gloves while cleaning brushes with mineral spirits or turpentine;
  • Remove paint from hands using baby oil, soap, and then water;
  • When adequate ventilation cannot be provided while using epoxy paints, gloves and a NIOSH-approved respirator with organic vapor cartridges shall be worn;
  • Never use lips to point the end of the paintbrush;
  • Eating, smoking, and drinking are prohibited in the studio; and
  • During pregnancy and nursing, switch to water-based paints to avoid exposure to solvents.

Dry Drawing Media

This includes dust-creating media such as charcoal and pastels which are often fixed with aerosol spray fixatives and media such as crayons and oil pastels which do not create dust.

Hazards Associated with Dry Drawing Media

  • Charcoal is considered a nuisance dust. Inhalation of large amounts of charcoal dust can create chronic lung problems through a mechanical irritation and clogging effect. A major source of charcoal inhalation is from the habit of blowing excess charcoal dust off the drawing;
  • Colored chalks are also considered nuisance dusts. Individuals who have asthma sometimes have problems with dusty chalks;
  • Pastel sticks and pencils consist of pigments bound into solid form by a resin. Inhalation of pastel dusts is the major hazard. Blowing excess pastel dust off the drawing is one major source of inhalation of pastel pigments;
  • Pastels may contain toxic pigments such as chrome yellow (lead chromate), which can cause lung cancer, and cadmium pigments which can cause kidney and lung damage and are suspect human carcinogens; and
  • Both permanent and workable spray fixatives used to fix drawings contain toxic solvents. There is high exposure through inhalation to these solvents because the products are sprayed in the air.

Safety Precautions When Working with Dry Drawing Media

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with dry drawing media:

  • Use the least dusty types of pastels, chalks, and pencils. Switch to oil pastels or similar non-dusty media when possible.
  • Spray fixatives shall be used with a spray booth that exhausts to the outside. Spray fixatives may be applied outdoors with a NIOSH-approved respirator equipped with organic vapor cartridges and dust/mists filter for protection against inhalation of solvent vapors and particulates;
  • Do not blow off excess pastel or charcoal dust with your mouth. Instead, tap off the built up dust so it falls to the floor;
  • Wet-mop and wet-wipe all surfaces clean of dusts; and

A NIOSH-approved disposable toxic dust respirator can be worn for protection from inhalation of dusts.

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Photographic Dark Rooms

General Hazards Associated with Photographic Darkrooms

  • Safety in the photographic darkroom is of utmost importance;
  • Many chemicals used in photographic processes give off hazardous vapors;
  • Other solutions produce potentially harmful gases such as formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, hydroquinone, ammonia, sulphur dioxide, and hydrogen sulphide;
  • Some ingredients can be corrosive; and
  • Darkroom ventilation is often insufficient and poorly designed. Improper ventilation can lead to overexposure of harmful chemicals.

Safety Precautions When Working in Photographic Darkrooms

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working in photographic darkrooms:

  • Provide proper ventilation:
    • There shall be at least ten air changes per hour or 170 cubic feet per minute (cfm) for darkrooms and automatic processors;
    • The exhaust duct opening shall preferably be located behind and just above the stop bath and fixer trays;
    • The exhaust shall not be re-circulated;
    • For group darkrooms, the amount of dilution ventilation shall be 170 cfm times the number of fixer trays; and
    • Ducting used with local exhaust systems shall prevent light leakage from the exhaust outlet.
  • Provide a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for all chemicals used in the darkroom;
  • Never consume food or beverages in an area with chemicals;
  • Do not store chemicals in commonly used beverage containers (e.g., soft drink bottles);
  • Wear eye protection and gloves whenever working with chemicals;
  • Avoid creating dust when mixing dry chemicals;
  • Use pre-mixed chemicals when available;
  • Always wash hands after using chemicals and before eating, drinking, or smoking;
  • If there are electrical outlets near wet areas, disable them or use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI);
  • All electrical equipment shall be wired with three-wire plugs, and all darkroom circuits shall be properly grounded; and
  • Provide spill kits in dark rooms where chemicals containing corrosives, organic solvents, or formaldehyde are used.

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Black and White Photographic Processing

A wide variety of chemicals are used in black and white photographic processing. Processes in black and white film developing include developing baths, stop baths and fixers, intensifiers, reducers, and toners.

Developing Baths

The most commonly used developers are hydroquinone, monomethyl para-aminophenol sulfate and phenidone. Other components of developing baths include sodium carbonate or borax, sodium sulfite and potassium bromide.

Hazards Associated with Black-and-White Developing Baths

  • Developers are skin and eye irritants. Many may also be strong sensitizers;
  • Some developers can also be absorbed through the skin to cause severe poisoning (e.g., catechol, pyrogallic acid);  
  • Developers are moderately to highly toxic by ingestion. Ingestion of less than one tablespoon of compounds such as monomethyl-p-aminophenol sulfate, hydroquinone or pyrocatechol being potentially fatal for adults;
  • Sodium hydroxide, sodium carbonate, and other alkalis used as accelerators are highly corrosive through skin contact or ingestion;
  • Potassium bromide is moderately toxic by inhalation or ingestion and slightly toxic by skin contact;
  • Symptoms of systemic poisoning include drowsiness, depression, lack of coordination, mental confusion, hallucinations, and skin rashes. It can cause bromide poisoning during fetus development in cases of high exposure to pregnant women; and
  • Sodium sulfite is moderately toxic by ingestion or inhalation, causing gastric upset, diarrhea, circulatory problems, and central nervous system depression. It is not appreciably toxic by skin contact. If heated or allowed to stand for a long time in water or acid, it decomposes to produce sulfur dioxide, which is highly irritating by inhalation.

Safety Precautions When Working with Black-and-White Developing Baths

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with black-and-white developing baths:

  • Use liquid developers when possible;
  • When mixing developing powders, use a glove box, local exhaust ventilation (fume hood), or wear a NIOSH approved toxic dust respirator;
  • Tongs shall be used in developing baths. Do not put bare hands in developer baths. If developer solution splashes on your skin or in your eyes, immediately rinse with copious amounts of water for a minimum of fifteen minutes; and
  • Do not use para-phenylene diamine or its derivatives if at all possible.

Black-White-Stop Baths and Fixers

Stop baths are usually weak solutions of acetic acid. Acetic acid is commonly available as pure glacial acetic acid or 28% acetic acid. Some stop baths contain potassium chrome alum as a hardener.

Fixing baths contain sodium thiosulfate (“hypo”) as the fixing agent, and sodium sulfite and sodium bisulfite as a preservative. Fixing baths also may contain alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) as a hardener and boric acid as a buffer.

Hazards Associated with Black-and-White Stop Baths and Fixers

  • Acetic acid, in concentrated solutions, is highly toxic thorough inhalation, skin contact and ingestion. It can cause dermatitis and ulcers, and can strongly irritate the mucous membranes;
  • Continual inhalation of acetic acid vapors may cause chronic bronchitis;
  • Potassium chrome alum or chrome alum (potassium chromium sulfate) is moderately toxic through skin contact and inhalation causing dermatitis and allergies;
  • In powder form, sodium thiosulfate is not significantly toxic through skin contact. Through ingestion, it has a purging effect on the bowels. Upon heating or long standing in solution, it can decompose to form highly toxic sulfur dioxide, which can cause chronic lung problems;
  • Many asthmatics are particularly sensitive to sulfur dioxide. Sodium bisulfite decomposes to form sulfur dioxide if the fixing bath contains boric acid or if acetic acid is transferred to the fixing bath on the surface of the print;
  • Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) is only slightly toxic. It may cause skin allergies or irritation; and
  • Boric acid is moderately toxic through ingestion or inhalation and slightly toxic through skin contact unless the skin is abraded or burned in which case it can be highly toxic.

Safety Precautions When Working with Black and White Developing Stop Baths and Fixers

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with stop black and white developing baths and fixers:

  • Wear eye protection and gloves whenever working with chemicals; and
  • Cover all baths when not in use to prevent evaporation or release of toxic vapors and gases.

Intensifiers and Reducers

A common after-treatment of negatives is either intensification or reduction. Intensifiers include hydrochloric acid and potassium dichromate or potassium chlorochromate. Mercuric chloride followed by ammonia or sodium sulfite, Monckhoven’s intensifier consisting of a mercuric salt bleach followed by a silver nitrate/potassium cyanide solution, mercuric iodide/sodium sulfite and uranium nitrate are older, now discarded, intensifiers. Reduction of negatives is usually done with Farmer’s reducer, consisting of potassium ferricyanide and hypo. Reduction has also been done historically with iodine/potassium cyanide, ammonium persulfate and potassium permanganate/sulfuric acid.

Hazards Associated with Intensifiers and Reducers

  • Potassium dichromate and potassium chlorochromate are probable human carcinogens, and can cause skin allergies and ulceration;
  • Potassium chlorochromate can release highly toxic chlorine gas if heated or if acid is added;
  • Concentrated hydrochloric acid is corrosive with diluted acid being a skin and eye irritant;
  • Mercury compounds are moderately toxic through skin contact and may also be absorbed through the skin. They are also highly toxic through inhalation and extremely toxic through ingestion;
  • Uranium intensifiers are radioactive and especially hazardous to the kidneys.
  • Sodium or potassium cyanide is extremely toxic through inhalation and ingestion and moderately toxic through skin contact;
  • Adding acid to cyanide forms extremely toxic hydrogen cyanide gas which can be rapidly fatal;
  • Potassium ferricyanide, although only slightly toxic by itself, will release hydrogen cyanide gas if heated, if hot acid is added, or if exposed to strong ultraviolet light (e.g., carbon arcs);
  • Cases of cyanide poisoning have occurred through treating Farmer’s reducer with acid; and
  • Potassium permanganate and ammonium persulfate are strong oxidizers and may cause fires or explosions in contact with solvents and other organic materials.

Safety Precautions When Working with Intensifiers and Reducers

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with intensifiers and reducers:

  • Chromium intensifiers are probably the least toxic intensifiers, even though they are probable human carcinogens. Gloves and goggles shall be worn when preparing and using these intensifiers;
  • Mix the powders in a glove box or wear a NIOSH-approved toxic dust respirator;
  • Do not expose potassium chlorochromate to acid or heat; and
  • Do not use mercury, cyanide or uranium intensifiers, or cyanide reducers because of their high or extreme toxicity.


Toning a print usually involves replacement of silver by another metal (e.g., gold, selenium, uranium, platinum, iron). In some cases, toning involves replacement of silver metal by brown silver sulfide (e.g., in the various types of sulfide toners). A variety of other chemicals are also used in the toning solutions.

Hazards Associated with Toners

  • Sulfides release highly toxic hydrogen sulfide gas during toning or when treated with acid;
  • Selenium is a skin and eye irritant and can cause kidney damage. Treatment of selenium salts with acid may release highly toxic hydrogen selenide gas. Selenium toners also give off large amounts of sulfur dioxide gas;
  • Gold and platinum salts are strong sensitizers and can produce allergic skin reactions and asthma, particularly in fair-haired people; and
  • Thiourea is a probable human carcinogen since it causes cancer in animals.

Safety Precautions When Working with Toners

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with toners:

  • Wear gloves and goggles;
  • Mix powders in a glove box or wear a NIOSH-approved toxic dust respirator;
  • Toning solutions shall be used with local exhaust ventilation (e.g. slot exhaust hood or working on a table immediately in front of a window with an exhaust fan at work level);
  • Take precautions to make sure that sulfide or selenium toners are not contaminated with acids; and
  • Avoid thiourea whenever possible because of its probable cancer status.

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Color Processing

Color processing is much more complicated than black and white processing and there is a wide variation in processes used by different companies. Color processing can be either done in trays or in automatic processors.

Color Processing Developing Baths

The first developer of color transparency processing usually contains monomethyl-p-aminophenol sulfate, hydroquinone, and other normal black and white developer components. Color developers contain a wide variety of chemicals including color coupling agents, penetrating solvents (such as benzyl alcohol, ethylene glycol, and ethoxydiglycol), amines, and others.

Hazards Associated with Color Processing Developing Baths

  • Refer to the developing section of black and white processing for the hazards of standard black and white developers.
  • In general, color developers are more hazardous than black and white developers.
  • Para-phenylene diamine and its dimethyl and diethyl derivatives are known to be highly toxic through skin contact and absorption, inhalation, and ingestion. They can cause very severe skin irritation, allergies and poisoning.
  • Color developers have been linked to lichen planus which is an inflammatory skin disease characterized by reddish pimples that can spread to form rough scaly patches.
  • Recent color developing agents such as 4-amino-N-ethyl-N-[P-methane- sulfonamidoethyl]-m-toluidine sesquisulfate monohydrate and 4-amino-3-methyl-N-ethyl-N-[,3-hydroxyethyl]-aniline sulfate are supposedly less hazardous, but still can cause skin irritation and allergies.
  • Most amines (e.g., ethylene diamine, tertiary-butylamine borane, and the various ethanolamines) are strong sensitizers, as well as skin and respiratory irritants.
  • Although many of the solvents are not very volatile at room temperature, the elevated temperatures used in color processing can increase the amount of solvent vapors in the air. The solvents are usually skin and eye irritants.

Safety Precautions When Working with Color Processing Developing Baths

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with color processing developing baths:

  • Wear gloves and goggles when handling color developers. Wash gloves with an acid-type hand cleaner (e.g. pHisoderm®) and then water before removing them. According to Kodak, barrier creams are not effective in preventing sensitization due to color developers;
  • Mix powders in a glove box or wear a NIOSH-approved toxic dust respirator; and
  • Provide proper ventilation. Color processing needs more ventilation then black and white processing due to the use of solvents and other toxic components at elevated temperatures.

Bleaching, Fixing, Other Steps

Many of the chemicals used in other steps of color processing are essentially the same as those used for black and white processing. Examples include the stop bath and fixing bath. Bleaching uses a number of chemicals including potassium ferricyanide, potassium bromide, ammonium thiocyanate, and acids. Chemicals found in pre-hardeners and stabilizers include succinaldehyde and formaldehyde; neutralizers can contain hydroxylamine sulfate, acetic acid, and other acids.

Hazards Associated with Bleaching, Fixing, Other Steps in Color Processing

  • Formaldehyde is moderately toxic through skin contact and highly toxic through inhalation and ingestion. It is a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant, strong sensitizer, and is a probable human carcinogen.
  • Formaldehyde solutions contain some methanol, which is highly toxic through ingestion.
  • Succinaldehyde is similar in toxicity to formaldehyde, but is not a strong sensitizer or carcinogen.
  • Hydroxylamine sulfate is a suspected teratogen in humans since it is a teratogen (causes birth defects) in animals. It is also a skin and eye irritant.
  • Concentrated acids, such as glacial acetic acid, hydrobromic acid, sulfamic acid, and p-toluenesulfonic acids are corrosive through skin contact, inhalation and ingestion.
  • Acid solutions, if they contain sulfites or bisulfites (e.g., neutralizing solutions), can release sulfur dioxide upon standing.
  • If acid is carried over on the negative or transparency from one step to another step containing sulfites or bisulfites, then sulfur dioxide can be formed.
  • Potassium ferricyanide will release hydrogen cyanide gas if heated, if hot acid is added, or if exposed to strong ultraviolet radiation.

Safety Precautions When Working with Bleaching, Fixing, Other Steps in Color Processing

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with bleaching, fixing, other steps in color processing:

  • Local exhaust ventilation is required for mixing of chemicals and color processing;
  • Use premixed solutions whenever possible. For powders, use a glove box, or wear a NIOSH-approved respirator with toxic dust filters;
  • Avoid color processes using formaldehyde, if possible;
  • Wear gloves, goggles, and protective apron when mixing and handling color-processing chemicals;
  • When diluting solutions containing concentrated acids, always add the acid to the water. An eyewash and emergency shower shall be available;
  • A water rinse step is recommended between acid bleach steps and fixing steps to reduce the production of sulfur dioxide gas;
  • Do not add acid to solutions containing potassium ferricyanide or thiocyanate salts; and
  • Control the temperature carefully according to manufacturer’s recommendations to reduce emissions of toxic gases and vapors.

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Printing Ink/Metal


Intaglio is a printmaking process in which ink is pressed into depressed areas of the plate and then transferred to paper. These depressed areas can be produced by a variety of techniques, including acid etching, drypoint, engraving, and mezzotint.


Etching at the University of Chicago involves the use of dilute nitric acid to etch the zinc or copper metal plate. Unetched parts of the plates are protected with rosin.

Hazards Associated with Ink/Metal Printing

  • Nitric acid etching releases the respiratory irritant nitrogen dioxide, which has poor odor warning properties. Large acute overexposures may cause pulmonary edema (chemical pneumonia) and chronic exposure may cause emphysema.
  • During the etching process, flammable hydrogen gas is also produced.
  • Concentrated nitric acid is a strong oxidizing agent and can react with many other chemicals, especially solvents or other organic compounds, to cause a fire.
  • Rosin dust is combustible. Sparks or static electricity have caused explosions in enclosed rosin and aquatint boxes.
  • Rosin dust may also cause asthma and dermatitis in some individuals.

Safety Precautions When Working with Ink/Metal Printing

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with ink/metal printing:

  • Obtain the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for all materials used;
  • Application of rosin shall be done with local exhaust ventilation;
  • Acid etching should be done with local exhaust ventilation;
  • Safety glasses shall be worn when diluting the nitric acid and while etching; and
  • Rosin (or asphaltum) boxes shall be explosion-proof. Use spark-proof metal cranks, explosion-proof motors, or compressed air.

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Welding joins pieces of metal by the use of heat, pressure or both. Brazing or soldering, involves a filler metal or alloy (a combination of metals) which has a lower melting point than the metal pieces to be joined. The filler materials (e.g., lead, cadmium) can be very toxic. Metal cutting is done by heating the metal with a flame and directing a stream of pure oxygen along the line to be cut. There are more than 80 different types of welding and associated processes. Some of the most common types of welding include arc welding, which includes “stick”, or shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), the gas-shielded methods of metal inert gas (MIG) and tungsten inert gas (TIG), plasma arc welding (PAW), and submerged arc welding (SAW). Other welding processes may use oxy-acetylene gas, electrical current, lasers, electron beams, friction, ultrasonic sound, chemical reactions, heat from fuel gas, and robots.

Hazards Associated with Welding

Gases and Fumes

  • Welding “smoke” is a mixture of very fine particles (fumes) and gases.
    • Many of the substances in welding smoke (e.g., chromium, nickel, arsenic, asbestos, manganese, silica, beryllium, cadmium, nitrogen oxides, phosgene, acrolein, fluorine compounds, carbon monoxide, cobalt, copper, lead, ozone, selenium, zinc) can be extremely toxic.


  • The intense heat of welding and sparks can cause burns;
  • Eye injuries have resulted from contact with hot slag, metal chips, sparks and hot electrodes;
  • Excessive exposure to heat can result in heat stress or heat stroke. Welders shall be aware of the symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, and irritability; and
  • Ventilation, shielding, rest breaks and frequent drinks will protect against heat-related hazards.

Visible Light, and Ultraviolet and Infrared Radiation

  • The intense light associated with arc welding can cause damage to the retina of the eye while infrared radiation may damage the cornea and result in the formation of cataracts;
  • Invisible ultraviolet light (UV) from the arc can cause “arc eye” or “welder’s flash” even after a brief exposure (less than one minute). The symptoms of arc eye usually occur many hours after exposure to UV light and include a feeling of sand or grit in the eye, blurred vision, intense pain, tearing, burning, and headache;
  • The arc can reflect off surrounding materials and burn co-workers who work nearby. About half of welder’s flash injuries occur in co-workers who are not welding;
  • Welders and cutters who continually work around ultraviolet radiation without proper protection can suffer permanent eye damage; and
  • Exposure to ultraviolet light can also cause skin burns similar to sunburn and increase the welder’s risk of skin cancer.

Electrical Hazards

  • Even though welding generally uses low voltage, there is still a danger of electric shock. The environmental conditions of the welder (e.g., wet or cramped spaces) may make the likelihood of a shock greater;
  • Dry gloves shall always be worn to protect against electric shock. The welder shall also wear rubber-soled shoes and use an insulating layer such as a dry board or a rubber mat for protection on surfaces that can conduct electricity;
  • The piece being welded and the frame of all electrically powered machines shall be grounded;
  • The insulation on electrode holders and electrical cables shall be kept dry and in good condition; and
  • Electrodes shall not be changed with bare hands, wet gloves, or when standing on wet floors or grounded surfaces.

Fires and Explosions

  • The intense heat and sparks produced by welding or the welding flame can cause fires or explosions if combustible or flammable materials are in the vicinity;
  • Welding or cutting shall only be performed in areas that are free of combustible materials including trash, wood, paper, textiles, plastics, chemicals, flammable dusts, liquids, and gases. Those that cannot be removed shall be covered with a tight-fitting flame-resistant material. Doorways, windows, cracks, and other openings shall be covered;
  • Never weld on containers that have held a flammable or combustible material unless the container is thoroughly cleaned or filled with an inert (non-reactive) gas. Explosions, fires, or release of toxic vapors may result. Containers with unknown contents shall be assumed to be flammable or combustible; and
  • A fire inspection shall be performed before leaving the work area and for at least 60 minutes after the operation is completed. Fires extinguishers shall be nearby.

Hazards of Compressed Gases

  • Gas welding and flame cutting use a fuel gas and oxygen to produce heat for welding. For high-pressure gas welding, both the oxygen and the fuel gas (e.g., acetylene, hydrogen, propane) supplied to the torch are stored in cylinders at high pressure. The use of compressed-gas cylinders poses some unique hazards to the welder.
  • Acetylene is very explosive. It shall only be used with adequate ventilation and a leak detection program.
  • Oxygen alone will not burn or explode. At high oxygen concentrations, however, many materials (even those that are difficult to burn in air such as normal dust, grease or oil) will burn or explode easily.
  • When using, storing or transporting gas cylinders, adhere to the following:
    • Cylinder caps shall be in place when a cylinder is not in use;
    • Ensure all cylinders are properly labeled as to the contents;
    • Always secure cylinders even if not in use;
    • No more than four cylinders shall be secured in any one row;
    • Cylinders shall be kept away from radiators and other sources of heat;
    • Cylinders that are not necessary for current work shall be stored in a safe location outside the work area;
    • Adapters or converters shall not be used to convert equipment to different threads;
    • Do not subject cylinders to temperature extremes;
    • Storage of flammable and oxidizing cylinders shall be separated by at least 20 feet or a fire resistant barrier of at least five feet high and having a fire rating of at least one hour;
    • Cylinders shall be transported by hand truck and shall never be moved from one location to another by manhandling or rolling;
    • Once a cylinder has been used, it should be clearly marked “Empty” and never stored with other full cylinders;
    • Cylinders containing flammable, corrosive and/or toxic gases shall not be stored in hallways, closets, or vestibules; and
    • Cylinders containing toxic gases shall be used in areas where both local and general ventilation is provided including distribution systems with the receiving end inside a containment hood or other adequately ventilated space.

Safety Precautions When Welding

The following safety precautions shall be followed when welding:

  • Keep work area clean. Combustible materials shall be removed from the work area prior to welding activities;
  • Inspect welding equipment to ensure it is in good working condition;
  • Follow operating instructions on all equipment;
  • Maintain all electrical connections, cables, and electrode holders and inspect for damage to cables and insulation and for loosened screws;
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in work area;
  • Obtain Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on all compressed gases, welding, and brazing rods prior to use;
  • Local exhaust ventilation shall be used to remove harmful fumes and gases;
  • If local exhaust ventilation cannot be provided, a NIOSH-approved respirator with P100 filters may be used;
  • Face shields or helmets and goggles shall be worn during welding activities. To keep slag and particles out of your eyes when removing your face shield, tip your head forward and keep your eyes closed;
  • Wear protective leather gloves, long-sleeved wool or flame-retardant cotton shirts and pants, and a leather apron to protect against flying sparks, hot metal, infrared, and ultraviolet radiation. * Clothing shall not have any cuffs, pockets or other folds in which sparks can be trapped;
  • Do not wear sandals or open-toed shoes while welding;
  • All hot work shall be conducted in accordance with the Welding, Cutting and Brazing
  • policy. Hot work is any temporary operation involving open flames or producing heat/sparks which includes, but is not limited to brazing, open-flame soldering, oxygen cutting, grinding, arc welding/cutting, oxy-fuel gas welding, hot taps, and torch applied roofing that are capable of initiating fires or explosions; and
  • Use wet methods or HEPA vacuums to clean the work area instead of dry sweeping.

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Disposal of Chemical Waste

All photochemicals and used solvents shall be disposed of as hazardous waste by contacting Environmental Health and Safety at 773.702.9999 to schedule a waste pick-up. Old or unused concentrated photographic chemical solutions, toning solutions, ferricyanide solutions, chromium solutions, color-processing solutions containing high concentrations of solvents, and non-silver solutions shall be treated as hazardous waste. All waste shall be disposed of in closeable, leak-proof containers designed for waste pick-up.

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Wood is one of the most commonly used materials in art, crafts, and home hobbies. Woodworking involves techniques such as carving, laminating, joining, sawing, sanding, paint removing, painting, and finishing.

Wood sculpture and furniture-making utilizes a large variety of hard and soft woods, including many exotic tropical woods. Many of these woods are hazardous themselves. Sometimes woods are treated with hazardous preservatives or pesticides.


Hardwoods are commonly used in wood sculpture and furniture making. Many rare hardwoods are imported from tropical countries.

Hazards Associated with Hardwoods

  • Saps present in many green woods, lichens, and liverworts present on the surface of freshly cut wood, can cause skin allergies and irritation from direct contact.
  • Many hardwood dusts, especially those from exotic woods, are common sensitizers and can cause allergic skin reactions.
  • Some hardwoods can cause allergic reactions in individuals working with or using finished hardwoods.
  • Contact with the dust of many hardwoods can cause conjunctivitis (eye inflammation), hay fever, asthma, coughing, and other respiratory diseases.
  • Some hardwoods can cause hypersensitivity pneumonia and frequent attacks can cause permanent lung scarring. Examples of these highly toxic woods include giant sequoia, cork oak, some maple woods, and redwood.
  • Some hardwoods contain chemicals that are toxic and can cause a variety of symptoms including headaches, salivation, thirst, giddiness, nausea, and irregular heartbeat. A classic example is hemlock.
  • Inhalation of hardwood dust is associated with a particular type of nasal and nasal sinus cancer, adenocarcinoma. This type of cancer has a latency period of 40-45 years and occurs in seven out of every 10,000 among woodworkers who are heavily exposed. This rate is many times higher than the rate of nasal adenocarcinoma in the general population. Over half of all known cases of this type of cancer are found in woodworkers.

Safety Precautions When Working with Hardwoods

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with hardwoods:

  • Whenever possible, use common hardwoods rather than rare tropical hardwoods;
  • People with a history allergies should avoid common sensitizing woods;
  • Do not use sensitizing woods for utilitarian objects where people would be in frequent contact with the wood;
  • Use local exhaust ventilation. If local exhaust ventilation is not feasible, wear a NIOSH-approved respirator; and
  • If you are handling woods that can cause skin irritation or allergies, wear gloves. Wash hands carefully after work.


Softwoods (e.g., pine) are often used in furniture making. Domestic softwoods are the most common.

Hazards Associated with Softwoods

Softwoods do not cause as high a frequency of skin and respiratory problems as do hardwoods. A few individuals can develop allergic reactions to some softwoods. Plywood is made by gluing thin sheets of wood together with either urea-formaldehyde glues (for indoor use) or phenol- formaldehyde glues (for outdoor use). Composition board (e.g., particleboard) is made by gluing wood dust, chips or other materials together with urea-formaldehyde resins. The materials can emit unreacted formaldehyde for some years after manufacturing with composition board emitting more formaldehyde. In addition, heating these materials or machining them can cause decomposition of the glue to release formaldehyde.

Safety Precautions When Working with Softwoods

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with softwoods:

  • Refer to precautions listed for hardwoods.

Hazards Associated with Plywood and Composition Board

  • Formaldehyde is highly toxic through inhalation, highly toxic through eye contact and ingestion, and moderately toxic through skin contact. It is an irritant and strong sensitizer.
  • Formaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen;
  • Even trace amounts of free formaldehyde may cause allergic reactions in people who are already sensitized to it;
  • Machining, sanding, or excessive heating of plywood or composition board can cause decomposition releasing formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide (in the case of amino resins), and phenol (in the case of phenol-formaldehyde resins); and
  • Use local exhaust ventilation when cutting or sanding plywood or composition board.

Safety Precautions When Working Plywood and Composition Board

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with plywood and composition board:

  • Use low-formaldehyde products whenever possible. There are particle boards that are made without formaldehyde, but these are very expensive; and
  • Do not store large amounts of plywood or composition board in the shop since it will emit formaldehyde. Instead, store in a ventilated area where people do not work.

Wood Preservatives and Other Treatments

Pesticides and preservatives are often applied to wood when it is being timbered, processed or shipped. Unfortunately, it is hard to find out what chemicals, if any, have been added. This is especially a problem with imported woods, since pesticides and wood preservatives banned in the United States and Canada are often used in other countries. Pentachlorophenol and its salts, creosote and chromated copper arsenate (CCA) have been banned for sale in the United Sates as wood preservatives because of their extreme hazards. They can, however, still be found in older woods and chromated copper arsenate is still allowed as a commercial treatment (e.g., “green” lumber, playground equipment, and other outdoor uses). It is supposed to be labeled. A variety of other chemicals can be used in treating wood including fire retardants or bleaches.

Hazards Associated with Wood Preservatives and Other Treatments

  • Pentachlorophenol is highly toxic through all routes of entry. It can be absorbed through the skin, cause chloracne (a severe form of acne), and liver damage, and is a probable human carcinogen and reproductive toxin;
  • Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is extremely toxic through inhalation and ingestion and highly toxic through skin contact. It is a known human carcinogen and teratogen. Skin contact can cause skin irritation and allergies, skin thickening and loss of skin pigmentation, ulceration and skin cancer. Inhalation can cause respiratory irritation, and skin, lung and liver cancer. Inhalation or ingestion may cause digestive disturbances, liver damage, peripheral nervous system damage, kidney damage, and blood damage. Acute ingestion may be fatal;
  • Creosote has a tarry look and is also used for outdoor wood. It is a strong skin and respiratory irritant and is a probable human carcinogen and teratogen;
  • Zinc and copper naphthenate are slight skin irritants; and
  • Copper naphthenate is moderately toxic by ingestion. If suspended in solvents, the solvent would be the main hazard.

Safety Precautions When Working with Wood Preservatives and Other Treatment

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with wood preservatives and other treatment:

  • Obtain Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on all chemicals being used in wood treatment. Treated wood itself does not have a SDS, so you have to try and find out about any treatments from the supplier. In the United States, CCA-treated wood is required to have a label and information on safe handling;
  • Do not handle woods that have been treated with pentachlorophenol or creosote. Avoid scrap or old woods of unknown origin;
  • Do not saw, sand, or otherwise machine CCA-treated wood, if at all possible. If you do, use with local exhaust ventilation;
  • If local exhaust ventilation is not feasible, a NIOSH-approved respirator with high efficiency (HEPA) filters shall be used;
  • If adding wood preservatives yourself, use zinc or copper naphthenates, if possible; and
  • Do not burn wood that has been treated with creosote, pentachlorophenol, or chromated copper arsenate.

Carving and Machining Wood

Woods can be hand carved with chisels, rasps, files, hand saws, sandpaper, and the like, or they can be machined with electric saws, sanders, drills, lathes, and other woodworking machines.

Hazards Associated with Carving and Machining Wood

Many wood dusts are hazardous through skin contact or inhalation. Woodworking machines are often very noisy, with noise levels ranging as high as 115 dB. This can cause permanent hearing loss with long-term exposure. Missing machine guards, faulty equipment or using the wrong type of machine for a particular operation may cause accidents. Vibrating tools (e.g., chain saws) can cause “white fingers” (Raynaud’s phenomenon) involving numbness of the fingers and hands. Electrical equipment can present electrical shock and fire hazards from faulty or inadequate wiring. Sawdust and wood are fire hazards. Fine sawdust is an explosion hazard if enclosed.

Safety Precautions when Carving and Machining Wood

The following safety precautions shall be followed when working with carving and machining wood:

  • Cut all wood products using local exhaust ventilation and a dust collection system;
  • Wear a NIOSH-approved respirator when it is not possible to use a local exhaust system;
  • Vacuum all sawdust after work; avoid dry sweeping. Clean wood dust from around and inside machines to avoid fire hazards;
  • Wear goggles when using machines that create dust. For lathes and similar machines which may produce wood chips, use a face shield and goggles and make sure the machines are properly shielded;
  • Wear hearing protection when using machinery;
  • Make sure that all woodworking machines are equipped with proper guards to prevent accidents. Use the proper machine for particular operations and repair defective machines immediately;
  • Do not wear ties, long loose hair, loose sleeves, necklaces, long earrings or other items that could catch in the machinery;
  • Keep hand tools sharpened and cut away from your body. Do not place your hands in front of the tool; and
  • Keep all electrical equipment and wiring in good repair and avoid extension cords which can be tripped over and are electrical hazards.

Gluing Wood

A variety of glues are used for laminating and joining wood. These include contact adhesives, casein glue, epoxy glues, formaldehyde-resin glues (e.g., formaldehyde-resorcinol), hide glues, white glue (polyvinyl acetate emulsion), and the cyanoacrylate “instant” glues.

Hazards Associated with Gluing Wood

  • Epoxy glues are moderately toxic through skin and eye contact and through inhalation;
  • Amine hardeners (as well as other types of hardeners) can cause skin allergies and irritation in a high percentage of the people using them. Inhalation can cause asthma and other lung problems;
  • Cyanoacrylate glues are moderately toxic through skin or eye contact. They can glue the skin together or glue the skin and other materials together, sometimes requiring surgical separation. Eye contact can cause severe eye irritation;
  • Formaldehyde-resin glues, Resorcinol-formaldehyde glues, and urea- formaldehyde glues are highly toxic through eye contact and inhalation, and moderately toxic through skin contact. The formaldehyde can cause skin and respiratory irritation and allergies, and is a known human carcinogen. The resin components may also cause irritation. Even when cured, any unreacted formaldehyde may cause skin irritation and sanding may cause decomposition of the glue to release formaldehyde;
  • Contact adhesives are extremely flammable;
  • Contact adhesives contain hexane which is highly toxic through chronic inhalation causing peripheral nerve damage;
  • Other solvents in contact adhesives are mineral spirits or naphtha, and 1,1,1- trichloroethane (methyl chloroform) which are moderately toxic through skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion;
  • Water-based glues, water-based contact adhesives, casein glues, hide glues, white glue (polyvinyl acetate), and other water-based adhesives are slightly toxic through skin contact and only slightly toxic through inhalation or ingestion; and
  • Dry casein glues are highly toxic through inhalation or ingestion, and moderately toxic through skin contact since they often contain large amounts of sodium fluoride and strong alkalis.

Safety Precautions When Gluing Wood

The following safety precautions shall be followed when gluing wood:

  • Avoid formaldehyde resin glues because of allergic reactions and the carcinogenicity of formaldehyde;
  • Use water-based glues rather than solvent-type glues whenever possible;
  • Wear gloves when using epoxy glues, solvent-based adhesives, or formaldehyde-resin glues;
  • Epoxy glues, cyanoacrylate glues, and solvent-based glues shall be used with good dilution ventilation (e.g., a window exhaust fan). Large amounts of these glues need local exhaust ventilation;
  • Eliminate other sources of ignition when using solvent-based glues; and
  • Wear gloves, goggles, and a NIOSH-approved toxic dust mask when mixing dry casein glues.

Paint Stripping

Stripping old paint and varnish from wood and furniture is done with paint and varnish removers containing a wide variety of solvents. One major class of paint and varnish removers formerly contained benzol (benzene). Now benzene has been replaced with toluene. “Nonflammable” paint strippers contain methylene chloride. They may also contain many other solvents including acetone, glycol ethers, methyl alcohol, and acetates. In recent years, a safer paint stripper based on dimethyl adipate has been developed by 3M Company. Caustic soda, acids, blowtorches, and heat guns are also used to remove old paint. Old stains on wood are often removed with bleaches which can contain caustic soda, hydrogen peroxide, oxalic acid, or hypochlorite.

Hazards Associated with Paint Stripping

  • Methylene chloride is highly toxic through inhalation and moderately so through skin contact. It is converted to carbon monoxide in the body and can cause changes in heart rhythm and possible fatal heart attacks. Smokers and people with heart problems are especially at risk. Methylene chloride is also a probable human carcinogen;
  • Many of the other solvents used in paint strippers are highly or moderately toxic through inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, and/or absorption;
  • In addition to the hazards of specific solvents, most solvents can also cause narcosis (dizziness, fatigue, loss of coordination, nausea) if inhaled;
  • Many of these solvents are also flammable;
  • Caustic soda used in some bleaches and for paint stripping is highly corrosive through skin or eye contact causing severe burns;
  • Similarly, oxalic acid is corrosive;
  • Concentrated hydrogen peroxide used in some bleaches is moderately toxic through skin or eye contact;
  • Hypochlorite (chlorine-type) bleaches are moderately toxic through skin contact or inhalation. Mixtures of chlorine bleaches and ammonia are highly toxic by inhalation, possibly being fatal; and
  • Heat guns and torches can vaporize paint. There have been many cases of lead poisoning from using torches and even heat guns to remove lead-based paint.

Safety Precautions When Paint Stripping

The following safety precautions shall be followed when paint stripping:

  • Dimethyl adipate paint strippers are safer than other solvent types because of their high boiling point, which means little evaporates;
  • Volatile, solvent-based paint strippers shall be used outside, unless only small amounts of stripper are being used;
  • If volatile, solvent-based paint strippers are used indoors, good dilution ventilation (e.g., window exhaust fan) shall be used. In small areas, or if there is not adequate ventilation, use a NIOSH-approved respirator with organic vapor cartridges;
  • Do not smoke, have open flames or other sources of ignition (e.g., pilot light) in the room if you are using flammable solvents. Solvent-soaked rags should be placed in an approved, self-closing waste disposal can which is emptied each day;
  • Wear gloves, goggles, and a protective apron when handling caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), oxalic acid bleaches or chlorine-type bleaches. An emergency eyewash and emergency shower shall be available; and
  • Avoid using torches to remove paint. Do not use heat guns if the paint contains lead.

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Respirator Usage

Respirators pose a significant burden on the circulatory and respiratory systems.  Use of respirators shall be done in accordance with the Respiratory Protection Program. No employee of the University of Chicago shall be issued or required to wear a respirator until the need for such protection has been validated by Environmental Health and Safety for non-research related work activity, or the Office of Research Safety for research related activities, and the affected employee has met the criteria set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Individuals required to wear a tight fitting respirator, e.g. N95, or a respirator with removable cartridges, e.g. P100 half face/full face particulate respirator, shall complete a medical evaluation, be properly trained and fit-tested to wear the respirator.  

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Guidance Documents

Art Studio Policy Guidance Document

Revised: November 2023

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