K-12 Art Safety

In implementing the Visual Arts Standards of Learning, students must know how to follow safety guidelines; demonstrate appropriate classroom safety techniques; and use materials, equipment, tools, and art spaces safely while working individually and in groups.

Safety must be given the highest priority in implementing the K-12 instructional program for visual arts. Correct and safe techniques, as well as wise selection of resources, materials, and equipment appropriate to age levels, must be carefully considered with regard to the safety precautions for every instructional activity. Safe visual arts classrooms require thorough planning, careful management, and constant monitoring of student activities. Class enrollments should not exceed the designed capacity of the room.

Teachers must be knowledgeable of the properties, use, storage, and proper disposal of all art materials that may be judged as hazardous prior to their use in an instructional activity. Art materials containing toxic substances that can cause acute or chronic health effects are prohibited from use with students in pre-kindergarten through grade six or up to twelve years of age. All hazardous art materials are required to be tested by the manufacturer and exhibit safety labeling: "Conforms to ASTM D-4236," "Conforms to ASTM Practice D-4236," or "Conforms to the health requirements of ASTM D-4236."

Toxic materials can be more harmful to children than to adults. Since children are still growing and developing, their bodies can more readily absorb toxic materials that can cause more damage than in adults. Since children are smaller, an amount of a toxic material would be more concentrated than in an adult's body. Children are also at higher risk because of their behavior. Children may not understand why it is important to be careful when using harmful materials. Also, some young children may put things in their mouths or swallow them. Toxic materials can enter the body in three different ways: inhalation, ingestion, or through the skin. If toxic material does enter the child's body, it can result in an acute illness, chronic illness, cancer, allergic reaction, or death.

While no comprehensive list exists to cover all situations, the following guidelines from The Center for Safety in the Arts should be reviewed to avoid potential safety problems.

  1. Avoid certain materials from student's art supplies for students in pre-kindergarten through grade six or up to twelve years of age. The general rules are listed below:
    • no dust or powders;
    • no chemical solvents or solvent-containing products;
    • no aerosol spray cans, air brushes, and so forth;
    • no acids, alkalis, bleaches, or other corrosive chemicals;
    • no donated or found materials unless ingredients are known;
    • no old materials-they may be more toxic and have inadequate labeling; and
    • no lead, metals, or cadmium products - these can be found in paints, glazes, metal work, and stained glass.
  2. Substitution of nontoxic materials for hazardous materials should be made a priority where feasible with students over twelve years of age.

  3. Treat high-risk students with special care and attention. Students who are physically or mentally disabled are at greater than normal risk from toxic materials. High-risk children include those who have visual or hearing problems, physical disabilities, asthma, take medication, or are emotionally disturbed. These high-risk students need special attention when using potentially harmful art supplies.

  4. Make sure products are adequately labeled. Do not use any product that does not have a label or has a label that gives inadequate information. In general, the more the label describes the product, the easier it will be to use safely. The label should state how the product is to be used. It should also state what to do in case of an accident. Even if the label says "nontoxic," do not assume that it is completely safe. Art materials must contain one of the three ASTM-D 4236 labels listed above for assurance that they are safe products. If containers are changed, be sure to label the new container.

  5. Purchase products in small containers. Smaller amounts of a product mean less exposure to the product. Also, larger amounts often are not readily used up. Leftover products need to be properly stored. Accidental poisonings may occur when stored products are left unattended. If such an accident should occur, call the local poison control center immediately.

Arts educators are responsible for the art materials they order and the safe use of those materials. Numerous safe art materials are available for use in place of materials identified as being toxic. Only art materials manufactured and labeled for use in the production of art projects and activities should be used in the execution of art projects within the classroom. Teachers of students twelve years of age or older should avoid the use of toxic hazardous art materials.