Risk Of Blasts In Ceramics Studios

Ceramic artists incur occupational risks beyond poor IAQ. Combustible dust explosions are a real and constant threat that can be remedied with proper dust extraction systems

old woman crafting in a ceramics studio

During an average day, there are many opportunities in which one can admire ceramic artistry. Whether it is a favorite morning coffee mug, impressive place setting at a restaurant during business lunch, or a vase of flowers in a neighbor’s kitchen window, the ceramic pieces all share a common beginning. They all began with an individual artist.

Artists who create stone or earthenware pottery go by a variety of different names: sculptural or ceramic artisan, studio potter, ceramist or ceramicist. All names indicate someone who uses clay as a medium and uses the process of firing (in a kiln) to achieve the final product.

Lenox, the largest American manufacturer of bone china in the United States, began as Lenox’s Ceramic Art Company in 1880. It was comprised of a small group of highly skilled artisans who did not produce the wide range of products available today but rather, unique ceramic goods working out of a small-scale art studio.

Today, the number of solo or small ceramic studios is countless. And in each of those studios exists occupational health risks that may be overlooked by the artists.

As opposed to large-scale ceramics manufacturing, studio pottery is defined as stone or earthenware made by professional or amateur artisans working alone or in small groups and the artists typically carry out all stages of manufacturing themselves. In this setting, where institutional safeguards are not necessarily in place, indoor environmental air quality may not be considered at all. But ignorance can be dangerous. Kiln firing, paints, and adhesives can emit toxins into the air and expose artists to noxious fumes. (1) But perhaps the most dangerous threat to the small studio artist is a combustible dust explosion. Defined by OSHA, combustible dusts are fine particles that present an explosion hazard when suspended in air under certain conditions. A dust explosion can cause catastrophic loss of life, injuries, and destruction of buildings. (2)

The materials that ceramicists work with, such as sand, cement, and limestone, are all inert – they will not ignite on their own. However, the process of making pottery requires adding other ingredients – such as fine metallic particles and organic material. Together, the combination of substances may create a combustible situation. (3)

Ceramic studio artists should be aware of the five elements that combine to cause rapid combustion: oxygen, heat (from a kiln or other heat source), fuel (dusts and fumes), dispersion (spreading via air), and confinement (an enclosed space). Together, these five factors are known as the “Dust Explosion Pentagon” (4) and are a constant threat to pottery makers the world over.

But studio artists needn’t worry about fume inhalation and dust blasts if preventative measures are in place. Among other things, studio owners should install localized exhaust ventilation and dust collection equipment near work sites where there is adequate airflow. Kilns and exhaust ducts should be routinely cleaned and examined for safety and efficiency. Lastly, all workspaces should be as clean and dust free as the work area will allow.

At Air Systems Inc., we serve the artists in ceramics community by identifying areas of potential risk in their studios. We supply them with stellar IAQ products that will ventilate and remove fumes and combustible dust particulates so that toxic fume inhalation and explosions cannot occur. Contact us today for a free safety program estimate with one of our skilled and experienced clean air specialists.