Skip to main content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Health and Safety in Arts Education: Reasons for Change

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

Reasons for Change


This section contains the rationale for eliminating hazardous art practices and supplies from art education, including: liability, regulatory, environmental, and health and safety issues.

Accidents with hazardous art materials in the classroom may pose serious health and environmental risks. Prolonged contact with toxic materials compound short- and long-term health risks in students. Unsafe practices increase potential hazards in the classroom and in the environment. Lack of familiarity with hazardous and toxic materials, including their physical and chemical properties, stability, and toxicology, places educators, students, staff, and surrounding environment at risk.

Why change?

The following conditions exist in art and education classrooms. These place schools at environmental risk, can cause long-term health problems, and leaves schools vulnerable to potential lawsuits:

  • Inadequate standards for art and craft suppliers
  • Lack of regulation for art and craft supplies
  • Incomplete, or non-existent, labeling on art and craft materials
  • Creative use of non-traditional art materials
  • Unregulated learning and work environments
  • Lack of awareness of risks

How to change

  • Modify purchasing habits
  • Avoid buying excess supplies
  • Participate in educational events and attend conferences that address classroom health and safety
  • Identify options/alternatives to traditional materials
  • Obtain assistance from state and regional agencies that provide technical assistance for art and classroom health and safety
  • Consider legal and financial ramifications if change does not occur

Top changes to consider

  • Create an emergency response policy and procedure for arts education providers
  • Develop a written hazards communication program (hazard evaluation, labeling, MSDS, handling requirements, and hazard emergency plan)
  • Identify in this plan a key person responsible for overseeing the plan
  • Provide protective clothing (and require that this be worn when appropriate)
  • Maintain, with school nurse (or in a central office) and in the art room where these chemicals are used or stored, printed copies of MSDS on chemicals and materials
  • Improve handling and storage of materials following the required and recommended procedures as stated on MSDS or by local governing agency
  • Adopt different housekeeping practices (i.e., reduce disturbing potentially hazardous substances, damp mop ceramic dusts daily)
  • Encourage students to take responsibility to clean at the end of each class and follow approved guidelines
  • Follow local requirements for disposing hazardous materials, including flammable, toxic, corrosive, and reactive waste
  • Incorporate the art laboratory into the overall chemical hygiene plan for the facility (along with the others including the chemistry laboratory, vocational shop classes, and facilities management)

Go further

  • Work with county/local governments to obtain recycled paint for set building for theatrical productions
  • Purchase props/furniture clothing from thrift stores
  • Purchse supplies from local "Materials for the Arts" recycle center and resource exchange programs.
  • Purchase construction materials from salvage outlets and/or try to work with local contractors/remodelers to obtain construction supplies such as doors and windows. Consider the pros and cons of buying in bulk and what is the wisest choice. If the product has a limited shelf life and limited use, it may be better to buy smaller containers that will be used in a reasonable amount of time. This also minimizes the volume of chemicals being stored in the art department and improves chemical management.
  • Take advantage of local or state agency programs designed to provide free or inexpensive assessments and recommendations of art classroom and storage facilities.

Essential Links