OK, also: dust mask, latex gloves, and an apron. Maybe a respirator.
As I write this, I’ve just returned from a visit to my optometrist that was both uncomfortable (he turned my eyelid inside out and squirted cold stuff in my eye) and reassuring (my eye, despite a few spots, is going to be fine). I am happy with him but not with myself: when I dye fabric, I wear latex gloves and a bandana, doubled and tied over my nose and mouth. I put these on before I open the powdered dye, and I leave the mask on until the dye is completely dissolved (no dust left) and the gloves on until I’m finished. I’ve been dyeing things for years and years, and never have I needed eye protection. Until today. Adding the sodium carbonate (soda ash, used as a mordant, or fixer), I felt one tiny drop leap up out of the washing machine and land in my left eye. I dropped everything, ripped off my mask and gloves, and raced to the bathroom sink. By the time I started flushing my eye, it had started to burn, and saying I was terrified is an understatement. I’m fine, but I want all of y’all to learn from me.
You need your eyes.
We’ve all known people who have had eye injuries. I know a mechanic who, while working, was poked in the eye with a wire. The subsequent infection cost him the sight in the *other* eye, which is scary, indeed. My husband, who always wears goggles when sawing wood, pushed them up for a minute to scratch his eye, didn’t remember to replace them, and had his cornea scratched by a tiny splinter that popped up at just the perfect angle. Luckily, it happened before noon on a Saturday, and the optometrist was there.
No matter what you do, from mixing dyes or paints to sculpting or wirework, stretching your own canvas (staples! nail guns!) to working with liver of sulphur or solder or—well, gee: just about anything—you need to think of your eyes. And, in many cases, your lungs (dust from sanded polymer clay, fumes from chemicals), your skin (the largest organ in your body and definitely the most exposed), your mouth. All of you. And you need to think not of the regular, average day in the studio, but the day when that one tiny thing goes wrong: when something spills or pops loose or shoots up at your face, when you drop or splash or sneeze or any of dozens of tiny things that can make Stuff Happen.
I can’t tell you exactly what you need to do for your particular medium, so you need to find out. Don’t say, “Oh, I’m careful; not to worry.” *I’m* careful (see above: gloves and mask), but I wasn’t careful enough. If you’re working with chemicals and fumes, a dust mask isn’t enough; you need a respirator. If you can’t wear latex, get a box of nitrile gloves and use those. Goggles are better than safety glasses, my doctor told me today, because if something splashes on your forehead, where is it going to run? Into your eye. He also recommended keeping a squirt bottle of soft contact lens solution in the studio to use as an emergency rinse. And remember how warning labels say to flush your eyes with water for 15 minutes? He says the way to do that—and make sure you do it long enough—is to get in the shower and let the water run into your eye at low pressure. The problem with something like sodium carbonate is that it’s a base, and bases, like soaps, he explained, will continue burning after a quick rinse. Unless you know a lot about chemistry, you don’t know this stuff. So keep rinsing. It’s worth it.
When I left his office, I drove across the parking lot to Home Depot and bought goggles, dust masks, and another box of latex gloves. After the scare today, I may cut back on dyeing, but when I do dye? I’ll be prepared.
I hope you are, too.
For more information about staying safe, check out The Artist’s Complete Health and Safety Guide.
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