So I've spent the last week being so sick, going from a fever of over 102, back to well enough to leave the house for short whiles and back to being very sick. Not exactly the best timing for this, seeing as I have a new project I need to work on and now I'm a week behind. So it got me thinking about the general health and safety of people in our profession. Clearly getting sick with the cold or flu doesn't help, but it's also hard to avoid (unless you get your yearly vaccination and go around with a mask over your face to avoid getting sneezed and coughed on (as my wife was). So let's talk about the other things that maybe we can have a bit more control over.
The materials and tools of our trade aren't exactly the safest out there. Some people get to work with chocolate, we work with urethanes. Some work with fabric, we work with toxic solvents. I don't think it's necessary to go into all the various materials and which precautions to take, but I will say this. You should ALWAYS read and follow the precautions of your materials. The things we use can shorten our lives significantly if the proper care isn't taken. I will suggest this: Respirators, dust masks and gloves go a long way to minimizing risk. So be sure to get those and use them regularly.
When it comes to tools, the same thing sort of applies here as well. Read the basic safety and care instructions and ALWAYS use caution around power tools. I grew up using power tools. My dad let me use big tools by the time I was 12 - and I mean unsupervised. Probably not the greatest parenting choice, but he taught me how to respect the tool, but not be afraid of it. You see, being afraid of power tools is also an easy way to get hurt by them. Gripping weakly (or to hard), taking your eyes off the tool because you're afraid of "The Big Spinny Thing". These are excellent ways to loose a finger. But you can't forget that as helpful as these tools can be, they do have the potential to seriously harm. Having respect for the tool means always keeping your eye on it when it's powered on. Don't try to make it do things it wasn't intended for. Don't wear clothing that can get sucked up into a saw, gear or spindle. Keep it sharp! - you'd be surprised how much more dangerous a dull tool is compared to a properly sharpened one. I've been lucky enough that in my now 34 years, I've never sustained a serious injury from a tool - and I've been doing this for a long time. Take care of your tools and they'll take care of you. Respect your tools and you'll keep your fingers and eyes for a long time. Lastly (under tools) Be sure to get yourself a face shield or safety glasses and ear protection. It will extend your ability to see, hear and enjoy your work and your life much longer.
So that brings me to general practices. We forget how important our comfort is to helping us work longer and in less pain. A good studio chair is a great place to start. Working on wooden dining chairs and stools is horrible for you. Ergonomic chairs come in a wide variety of styles, features and prices. It'll be up to you to figure out which chair best suits your needs, but don't think you can't afford a nice chair. Web sites like BizChair.com are a great place to find good deals on great chairs. I purchased a chair that normally retails for over $400, but only paid $130. The chair has made a great difference in my ability to work longer and without pain.
The other studio item that can make a big difference is your work station. A work station that's too low is bad for your back. One that's poorly laid out will you have reaching and straining too much. having an adjustable stand can help keep you working up-right. Let's not forget lighting either. Protect your eyes, not just from flying debris, but from strain as well. Make sure your studio has ample lighting. Invest in a lighted magnifier so you don't have to strain to see details. If you're handy with wood working tools, you can design a real Kick-Ass work station (as I've done, and am now just waiting to build). But if you're not all too handy with woodworking tools, or you just don't have access to them, you can find some great desk sets and drafting tables out there that can really do the trick. A little research on the internet and you'll find something that will fit your budget, your space, and make you much more productive and comfortable in the long run.
Finally, there's the thing I know that we're all guilty of: Poor eating and drinking habits. How many of us miss meals or go hours without a single sip of water. How many times do we reach out to fast food because we just don't have the time to make food. Well, our health is so vitally important and we can't let ourselves waste away in our ergonomic chairs and well lit work stations. Set timers to remind yourselves to stretch every half hour or so. It can also be a great time to step back and look at your work from further back - a practice you should already be doing. Keep water on your table to make it as easy for you to get plenty to drink. I keep a 3/4 gallon bottle with me so I can track how much water I've consumed throughout the day. It doesn't mean I'm great about drinking water when I need to, but without, I could easily go 6 hours and not have a single sip of water. Healthy snacks are a great way to keep your energy and your metabolism up. I'm sure we'd all like to be like Keith Kopinski - really talented sculptor and built like Thor, but lets face it... We're at best Peter Parker without the Spider Powers or Doc Oc without the cool helping arms or the genius level IQ (I guess we're more like Jay and Silent Bob types when you really think about it).
So what do you say guys. Let's make 2011 all about getting in the right mind for health and safety. Lets start with our general practice of diet and at least some exercise (and no, kneading Super Sculpey by hand isn't enough exercise - even if you do get winded). Lets pick up a few safety items for our studios and make them a safer place to work. And finally, let's just make sure we all get to do this for a long time by being smart about our health and the things we do in our studios.
Take care of yourselves. Keep on Creating.