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Saturday, May 31 • 10:00am - 10:30am
(Health and Safety Session) Controlling Hazardous Collection Materials

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When considering the sustainable care and management of collections, the health and safety of the conservator and other collections stewards should be a primary concern. Studies have demonstrated that the potential for adverse effects associated with exposure to artifacts with inherent or acquired toxicities can be mitigated through preventative measures, engineering controls, and proper training.  Hazardous objects include those made with toxic materials (e.g., under-bound heavy metal based pigments, radioactive minerals); materials that may become more toxic once they are deteriorated or damaged (e.g., tin-mercury amalgam in mirrors, asbestos art plaster, degraded medicinals); objects with acquired toxicity (e.g., pesticide residues, mold), and objects with flammability or physical restrictions (e.g., gunpowder, heavy artwork, sharpness/breakability).

Conservators working with these objects should be aware of the risk and be able to assist in providing a safe environment to anyone who may come in contact with them. An Occupational Safety and Health Plan, developed and supported by both managers and staff, can protect persons from task and collection-based risks by ensuring that staff relies on disciplined safe working practices.

The AIC Health & Safety Committee has outlined specific procedures to help create a collections-based risk management plan for the safe handling of hazardous objects.  A plan must include: 1) known or suspected inherent or acquired hazards, including post-collection treatments or legacy hazards, 2) methods for alerting users that objects are hazardous, 3) conditions requiring access restrictions for cabinets or collections, 4) legal requirements for disclosing known or suspect hazards to the recipient of an object including repatriated items, 5) legal rights to request hazard disclosures from lenders or collectors, 6) decontamination and/or disposal of hazardous materials, 7) effective storage area cleaning, 8) prevention of inadvertent contamination, and 9) alteration of treatment goals based on the known hazards.

In developing and implementing a risk management plan, it is important to recognize that collections management offers workplace exposure scenarios that are unique and often well below the radar of most safety experts. Therefore, clear dialogue is necessary to best describe museum operations and conservation tasks to health professionals and discuss how specific test methods can be used without damaging collections. Once the commitment is made to create a proactive safety program, the technologies of hazard control are well-developed, often inexpensive, and easily accessible. Numerous public health and safety resources exist to help conservators assess hazards, develop, and implement a risk management plan.  These include easily accessible web-based information, such as directories of professional organizations’ safety consultants, information on pro-bono services, and links to occupational medical clinics. Safety investments are not just a legal requirement, but also a positive factor in productivity.

avatar for Kathryn Makos

Kathryn Makos

Industrial Hygienist (Retired), Smithsonian Institution (Ret.)
Kathryn Makos, Certified Industrial Hygienist, Masters of Public Health (University of IL), retired (2013) from the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Safety, Health and Environmental Management, where she was responsible for developing industrial hygiene programs and conducting... Read More →
avatar for Kerith Koss Schrager

Kerith Koss Schrager

Conservator, The Found Object Art Conservation
Kerith Koss Schrager, objects conservator and owner of The Found Object Art Conservation, provides conservation and preservation services for fine and decorative arts, historical, ethnographic and archaeological collections in the greater New York area. She has worked with institutions... Read More →
avatar for Anne Kingery Schwartz-[PA]

Anne Kingery Schwartz-[PA]

Principal Objects Conservator, Kingery Conservation LLC
Anne Kingery-Schwartz is an objects conservator in private practice in Washington DC. Since starting her business in 2011, she’s worked for various Smithsonian museums, other local institutions, and private clients. Prior to going into private practice, Anne worked at the Philadelphia... Read More →

Saturday May 31, 2014 10:00am - 10:30am PDT
Pacific Concourse F-G