Workplace Safety

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Health & Safety Network Conservation Wiki

Copyright: 2024. The Health & Safety Wiki pages are a publication of the Health & Safety Network of the American Institute for Conservation.

Some of the information included on this wiki may be out of date, particularly with regard to toxicological data and regulatory standards. Also, because new information on safety issues is continually published, resources outside of AIC should be consulted for more specific information.

Contributors: Kerith Koss Schrager

Biological Monitoring & Exposure Assessments[edit | edit source]

Depending on the types of collections or treatment work one is involved with, there is a potential for exposure to hazardous materials or conditions that can cause adverse health effects. Certain hazardous materials that enter the system by ingestion or dermal contact can only be detected through biological monitoring.

If there is an ongoing exposure risk present in a workspace, a regular biological monitoring schedule can ensure that established protective measures and equipment are working properly.

For more information about the appropriate scenarios for this kind of assessment, see the wiki page on Biological Monitoring.

Chemical Hygiene Plan[edit | edit source]

A Chemical Hygiene Plan is a written program unique to each workplace that establishes policies, procedures, and responsibilities for any employee coming into contact with hazardous materials.

For specific information about creating a Chemical Hygiene Plan see the AIC Health and Safety Network Guide:

For more information about working with hazardous materials see the Chemical Safety page of the wiki.

Emergency Response[edit | edit source]

An emergency is defined as a serious situation or occurrence that happens unexpectedly and demands immediate action. Preparing for an emergency response, whether resulting from a natural disaster or a building facilities failure, is an important aspect of collection care.

Policies for response should be included in an organization’s disaster plan and should address not only the procedures to recover collections but the health and safety of the responders.

Any time collection caretakers are called upon to respond to an emergency, it is important to remember that not all stages of an emergency demand rapid response—the recovery and assessment of cultural property will be a secondary response. Access to cultural properties will only be allowed once immediate threats to life and health are cleared.

Always put the health and safety of individuals first, otherwise, you put the entire response effort at risk. With every experience in an emergency response, greater insight is gained into those accumulated best practices that promise to improve both personal skills and lasting contributions to the knowledge of emergency response.

For more information see Health and Safety in Emergency Response, also available in a print version,

Ergonomics[edit | edit source]

In the course of treatment or preservation work, conservators are often required to sit in the same position for long periods at a time. Repetitive, fine motor actions are also a common practice that conservators perform. To prevent injury and/or long term chronic issues, understanding and implementing good ergonomic practices is essential. Shared below are some resources with information on how to care for your body and consider the needs of an ergonomic work space.

Eye Health[edit | edit source]

Caring for eye health in the workplace requires using the correct PPE and ensuring that there is emergency response equipment in place and in good working order. For a detailed discussion about how to choose the correct eye safety wear, see the Eye Protection section of the PPE wiki page. Shared below are more resources for standards of eye health in the work place.

Fall Protection[edit | edit source]

Anytime a person is elevated above the ground, there is a potential for a fall. This includes working on ladders, scaffolding, and even step stools. Thorough planning and proper training for working safely at heights are key elements of reducing the risk of injury from a fall.

For more information on fall protection and planning see: Fall Protection Health and Safety Guide

Fire Safety[edit | edit source]

Protection from fire hazards in the workplace requires a combination of comprehensive policies and appropriate fire suppression equipment that consider the sources of risk unique to a given workplace. Following established regulations and performing routine assessments of fire preventive equipment is the best way to reduce the risk of a fire event. Shared below are general resources and best practices, but it is important to be familiar with local regulations as well. Establishing a relationship with a local fire marshal/department is an excellent way to ensure your workspace is compliant with fire codes and that first responders are aware of the unique conditions of a collection space if they must respond to an event.

Fire Codes and Regulations[edit | edit source]

National Fire Protection Association[edit | edit source]

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a global self-funded nonprofit organization, established in 1896, devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. NFPA delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards.

This code describes principles and practices of protection for cultural resource properties (such as museums, libraries, and places of worship), their contents, and collections, against conditions or physical situations with the potential to cause damage or loss.
Free access available by registering account with NFPA

This code describes principles and practices of fire safety for historic structures and for those who operate, use, or visit them.
Free access available by registering account with NFPA

Risk Assessment[edit | edit source]

Fire Suppression[edit | edit source]

Methods of fire suppression can range from hand held fire extinguishers to wet or dry pipe sprinkler systems that are built into the infrastructure. It is important to be familiar with the materials present in these suppression systems and their potential health risks, as well as the effects they may have on collection materials.

Fire extinguishers[edit | edit source]

Fire extinguishers have specific classifications related to the size and type of fire that they are intended to suppress.

See: Fire extinguisher

Sprinkler Systems[edit | edit source]

Fire Recovery[edit | edit source]

  • Impact of Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials Fire Protection Research Foundation (2016)
    In 2009, recognizing the need for further investigation, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on Cultural Resources submitted a project proposal to the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF). The proposal was to develop test specifications and procedures for measuring the impact of portable fire extinguisher agents on cultural resource collections. This document reports the results of two subsequent studies conducted by Jensen Hughes and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation as part of an Institute of Museums and Library Services National Leadership Grant (IMLS-NLG) to explore the impacts of fire protection agents on cultural heritage materials.
  • The Hidden Hazards of Fire Soot
    September 2010 (35:5) 1, 3-5, Dawn Bolstad-Johnson

Job Hazard Analysis[edit | edit source]

Before completing a specific task or activity, completing a Job Hazard Analysis (or JHA) can help identify areas of potential risk from any chemical or physical hazard involved. This type of analysis can help to identify ways to mitigate risk before completing the work, and allows and employee and supervisor to be aware of the necessary safety procedures and equipment that must be in place before work can proceed.

For more information what should be included and when to complete one, see the Job Hazard Analysis information page.

Safety Training[edit | edit source]

See page 2 of Start Here! Introductory Health & Safety Resources for the Health & Safety Network's PDF checklist for workplace safety training.

As conservators begin school and start new internships and jobs, laboratory and workplace safety training should be part of your introduction to your workplace. Safety training is not just good sense–it is required for all employers.

Who should have safety training?[edit | edit source]

Anyone who works in the conservation lab or studio should receive workspace-specific safety training in addition to safety training provided by the overall institution, unless they are under direct and constant supervision of someone with safety training every moment they are working. This includes new as well as current full- and part-time conservation employees, contractors, volunteers, interns and anyone else who may have contact with hazardous materials or situations within the space such as custodians and art handlers.

How often should safety training be conducted?[edit | edit source]

Individuals should review their safety training annually or whenever new safety policies are implemented. Anyone newly entering the lab or studio should receive training as soon as possible.

What should be included in safety training?[edit | edit source]

  • Review and location of the Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP)
  • Review of Chemical Safety, including chemical handling, labeling and storage
  • Locations and types of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Review of hazardous materials handling and waste disposal
  • Locations and use of first aid kits, eye washes and showers
  • Review and location of the Disaster & Emergency Plans
  • Review of Evacuation Routes
  • Review and locations of Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and Hazard Communication Protocols
  • Review of use of fume extraction and ventilation (including respirators, if used)
  • Contact information for persons responsible for safety protocols and emergency response (for the lab, institution and city) *Review of any lab and institution specific safety plans (such as handling pesticide residues or ladder/scaffolding use)
  • Instruction on creating and using a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA)
  • Review of radiation use and safety (if used)

Employer/Supervisor Responsibilities[edit | edit source]

  • Create a work environment where workers feel comfortable and confident in performing tasks safely and reporting safety concerns
  • Provide safety training for all workers in the lab or studio
  • Implement, review and maintain all safety documents (CHP, SDS, Disaster Plan)
  • Enforce safety protocols
  • Maintain relationships with and request information from appropriate safety professionals
  • Ensure workspace and equipment meets all city, state and OSHA safety guidelines
  • Provide annual fit testing for respirators if they are used

Worker Responsibilities[edit | edit source]

  • Be proactive in your own health and safety
  • Participate in employer provided safety training
  • Follow safety protocols
  • Promptly inform supervisor of all safety concerns
  • Request safety training if it is not provided to you

Self-Advocacy in the Workplace[edit | edit source]

Whether you are working in a new environment or simply with a new artifact or treatment material, it is important to assess the situation through a health and safety (H&S) lens. The Health and Safety Network and Education and Training Committee collaborated to create the following resource for self advocacy in the workplace, providing guidance on performing a health and safety assessment, how to address concerns, and resources for creating a safe work environment.

Self-Advocacy for Health and Safety in Conservation and Collections Care Document