Safety first making pottery

Image of clay scraps. Photo from Taylor Heery

After reading our article how to get started, you’ve decided to give it a go, and craft with clay. Well-done!

Pottery is a relatively safe activity and it can be done by children under the supervision of an adult. But you need to be careful with few things.

When making pots at home, the risks are limited. There are more hazards in a pottery studio. Before starting working in a studio, you should receive a health and safety induction, and be trained on how to use the equipment. Do not use equipments without being instructed by a studio technician. Always follow the manufacturers’ instructions of the materials, equipments and tools you are using.

Clay is a relatively safe material when wet, but it contains silica which constitute an hazard if dry. It is important to reduce clay dust as possible and work in a well-ventilated room. Long term exposure to silica can cause silicosis.

Work with fresh or leather hard clay. If your piece has gone too dry, spray it with water and wrap it in plastic for few hours, and spray again until wet enough. Any scrap and large chunks of clay that are too hard to use can be left to dry.  Once clay is totally dry, place it in a bucket with clear water and in few days it will turn to a mush. Then follow the steps to reclaim your clay and reuse it again. If you need sanding your piece after being fired, do it with water, never dry!

Wash your aprons and towels after each session. Clean your workspace with a wet large sponge, and mop your floor at the end of your session. Dusting, sweeping, and vacuuming are not recommended because these methods put dust into the air.

Some tools and equipments may be sharp and constitute a hazard. Children should be supervised at all time. Be careful with cutting tools sharp objects, paint, sealants, plastic bags that can cause suffocation, small pieces that can be swallowed, etc.

If you are using coloured slips and glazes to decorate your pieces, remember that they are chemical products which may contain oxides and other hazardous materials. Follow the instructions how to use them, wash your hands carefully and don’t eat or drink when manipulating them. Same precautions need to be applied with paints and sealants.

Any contamination of the skin, mouth or eyes should be washed away with water immediately. Follow the instructions on the clay or product pack. Ask for medical advice after eye contact or medical concern.

If you are making tableware, double check with the studio technician or the supplier that the glazes will be food safe after firing.

Don’t use air-drying clay to make vessels for food and drink.

We hope that this simple preventive measures will keep you safe.

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