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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Health and Safety in Arts Education: Background and Overview

Health, safety, and source reduction information for artists and art educators, including theater arts.

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Background and Overview


This section contains information on the hazards found in the arts education classroom, why teachers need to learn health and safety protocols, and how they can reduce exposure to these hazards through pollution prevention.

Many traditional art and craft supplies contain toxic substances either known to be or suspected of being human carcinogens. Additionally, they may pose significant risks to the health and development of art students.

The majority of art educators do not have extensive training in chemistry or other sciences. Because of this, they may be unaware of risks associated with the art materials that they use. Many art materials contain industrial chemicals that may pose a threat to both the environment and to the health of those using them or working with them. A

In addition, many artists are unaware of waste management issues or legal requirements for handling hazardous materials. By learning about environmental health and safety concerns associated with the use of art materials, and by carefully selecting the materials with which they work, art educators can reduce their own exposures as well as those of their students. They can also pass along best health and environmental practices to their students.

Hazardous materials and health/safety concerns

Many artists are self-employed. Their workplaces are not monitored under OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, and they have not been studied under traditional health and safety research. Other safety issues can also create occupational hazards. The table below lists some of these. 

Art Form Health Risk
Acid etching Emphysema
Stained-glass making Lead poisoning
Jewelry making Cadmium poisoning
Painting Bladder cancer

Hazardous materials storage and disposal

Environmental risks occur from improper storage and disposal of waste materials used in the art classroom or art studio. Many artists are unaware of toxicological or ecological information regarding their material, nor are they aware of disposal considerations and regulatory information. Waste materials may be improperly disposed either when placed in the trash or down the drain.

Improper package warnings and lack of awareness as to the nature of risks and hazards perpetuate pollution problems. As awareness increases among the art community and within the art education system, these risks are anticipated to diminish.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle educational waste

Art educators generate considerable amounts of waste, both paper and non-traditional materials such as metals, plastics, and fabrics. Theatrical arts create waste through promotion (playbills), props and set designs, and costumes.

Source reduction strategies prevent creation of waste and address waste management and pollution prevention. Identifying these opportunities help art educators create healthier, more sustainable learning environments.

Energy efficiency

Often energy use is not considered when evaluating art education, especially theatrical arts education. Energy use in industrial arts, photography, and theater can be reduced using some simple energy efficiency measures. Schools can also switch out less efficient equipment and supplies, which will not only reduce energy use but also save money. For more information, see Energy Star.