Art-Making Materials


Solvents are used to dissolve oils, resins, varnishes, and inks and to remove paint and lacquer. Because they are used so frequently used in everyday life, it is easy to underestimate the damage exposure to them could cause you. They can cause serious acute and chronic health effects if swallowed or inhaled in sufficient quantities. Some solvents can also cause dermatitis (skin inflammation) and narcosis (numbing, drowsiness, or unconsciousness). Always use the least toxic solvent possible. For example, solvents such as terpenoid are less toxic than solvents such as xylene or ethylene.

Aerosol Sprays

Aerosol sprays such as fixatives, spray paint, and spray adhesives are extremely dangerous when the fine mists produced by these products are inhaled. Use aerosol sprays in a spray room/booth or other well-ventilated area. Wear a respirator with a filter cartridge appropriate for the material.


Acids and alkalis (bases) used in ceramics, photo-chemistry, paint removers, and similar materials can be corrosive to the skin, eyes, respiratory system, and gastrointestinal system. Strong acids, such as hydrochloric, sulfuric, and nitric acid require special handling as outlined on the chemicals Safety Data Sheets.

Paints and Pigments

Many paints and color pigments contain hazardous, heavy metals such as lead, chromium, cadmium, and barium, which can cause neurological, respiratory and reproductive damage. Never use a paint or pigment without a Safety Data Sheet.


Many chemicals used in photographic processing are corrosive and can cause severe skin and respiratory problems. The greatest hazards associated with photography include the preparation and mixing of powders. Never touch chemical powders or solutions with unprotected hands. In addition, take care not to stir up and inhale chemical dusts. Always ensure that the darkroom ventilation system is on and operating properly whenever you are working with photographic chemicals.

Plastics, Acrylics, and Resins

Plastic hazards result from making plastic and working with finished plastic. The greatest hazards associated with making plastic come from the monomers, solvents, fillers, catalysts, and hardeners. The hazards involved with finished plastics result mainly from methods used to work with plastic such as burning, polishing, sanding, and grinding plastics, which can produce harmful gases and dusts.

  • Acrylics and resins are also hazardous. Components of acrylics can include harmful materials that are irritants, explosive and flammable. Inhalation is the main hazard associated with these materials, and working in a spray room or booth with the appropriate respirator is required while working with them.
  • Resins used in laminating, casting, glues, and coatings are also skin irritants, sensitizers, and suspected carcinogens. Avoid skin contact and inhalation while working with resins. Contact the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety to discuss the safe use of resins in SAIC facilities. 

Ceramic Clay and Glazes

Clay contains silica and talc, which can be hazardous if inhaled. Long-term inhalation of silicates can cause respiratory diseases such as silicosis. When handling and mixing clay, use exhaust ventilation and wear a particulate respirator.

  • Glazes can also contain materials such as silica, feldspar, and talc. Wear a particulate respirator and/or use exhaust ventilation when mixing or spraying glazes. Some glazes also contain harmful and toxic metals such as cadmium, lead, or cobalt. Be sure to dispose of glazes that contain toxic ingredients such as these in Hazardous Waste.
  • Toxic fumes and gases are often produced during the firing process. Ensure that kilns are properly closed and secure, and that the exhaust ventilation system is on and properly working. 


There are many hazards associated with welding—burns, eye damage from ultraviolet rays, and lung irritation from inhaling toxic fumes like manganese, nickel, copper, zinc, and ozone that are generated during the welding process. It is imperative that exhaust ventilation is used for all welding processes. Welders should also take care when handling compressed gas cylinders to avoid possible explosions.


Physical hazards (such as noise, flying debris, lifting, pinching, and cutting), inhalation of sawdust, and exposure to adhesives are all associated with woodworking activities. The long-term inhalation of sawdust can cause chronic respiratory illnesses, and the sawdust generated from some types of wood can induce allergic reactions. Solvent-based adhesive coating can also cause inhalation hazards and allergic reactions. When operating equipment, make sure that the dust collection system is operating and wear appropriate personal protective equipment.

Controlling Hazards

Fire Hazards

Common art materials that may cause fires include flammable or combustible solvents, oily rags, chemical oxidizers, and compressed welding gasses. To prevent fires, remove electrical equipment that may generate sparks. When dispensing flammable solvents from large metal containers, ground both containers to dissipate static electricity. Store oily or solvent-soaked rags in closed metal containers.


Local exhaust ventilation systems capture contaminants (such as particulates or dusts, fumes, gasses, and vapors) at their sources by exhausting the contaminants directly outdoors through a duct system. Local exhaust (e.g., spray booth, hood, or other mechanical means) is the required method of ventilation for making work that involves the use of toxic materials or dust. Processes such as spray painting, welding, acid etching, woodworking, or the use of flammable and toxic materials must use local exhaust ventilation. There are several spray booths located on campus:

Spray Booth Locations On-Campus





162 Building, 162 N. State St.



Spray Booth

33 Building, 33 E. Washington St.


Graduate Studios

Spray Booth

Sullivan Center, 36 S. Wabash Ave.


All access

Spray Booth

Sullivan Center, 36 S. Wabash Ave.


All access

Wax Exhaust

Sharp Building, 37 S. Wabash Ave.


All access

Spray Booth

MacLean Center, 112 S. Michigan Ave.


Painting and Drawing studios

Spray Booth

280 building, 280 S. Columbus Dr.


All access

Spray Booth

280 building, 280 S. Columbus Dr.

230 J

Printmedia department

Spray Booth

280 building, 280 S. Columbus Dr.


Painting and Drawing department

Spray Booth

Personal Protective Equipment

To minimize hazardous exposure to chemicals or other physical agents, always substitute harmful materials or chemicals for a safe or less-hazardous material when possible. If a material cannot be substituted, use local exhaust ventilation. If these controls are not possible, it may be necessary to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, glasses, respirators, and appropriate clothing.

Storing, Handling, and Disposing of Materials and Chemicals

When incompatible chemicals are stored or mixed together, violent reactions may occur between them. To avoid fires and explosions, segregate incompatible chemicals in storage. For example, store acids and bases in separate containers, away from flammable and combustible liquids. Store chemical oxidizers such as chlorates, chromates, nitrates, and peroxides away from organic solvents and other readily combustible materials. Store flammable compressed gasses in an upright position and separate flammable gasses from compressed oxygen cylinders.

Store all flammable and combustible liquids in approved flammable liquid containers and cabinets. Avoid transferring chemicals into breakable containers, food containers, coffee containers, or containers with loose-fitting lids. Dispose of all flammable, combustible, and other liquid waste in the designated hazardous waste containers for flammable and combustible liquids. For more information on how to store chemicals, review SAIC's Chemical Hygiene Program.

Handling Chemicals Properly

You could be exposed to chemical hazards through skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion; precautions must be taken whenever working with art-making materials. For example:

  • Read and understand the Safety Data Sheet (formerly called material safety data sheet) prior to using any material.
  • Wear personal protective equipment like gloves, safety glasses, and respirators, as recommended on the Safety Data Sheet.
  • Whenever possible, substitute nontoxic and less toxic solvents and chemicals for hazardous materials, like using terpenoids instead of mineral spirits. Never eat, drink, or smoke when working with art materials that contain chemicals.

Emergency Response

Each floor is equipped with a house phone. Press the orange emergency button to report any injuries, illnesses, chemical spills, or any other emergency. In the event of a medical emergency, dial 911 and Campus Security (the orange emergency button) to report the nature of the emergency and location.

Safe Levels of Exposure

While there are no specific exposure thresholds for students, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes exposure standards in the workplace. In addition, other governmental agencies and professional associations publish exposure guidelines for airborne concentrations at levels that nearly all healthy adults may be exposed to during any 8-hour work shift of a 40-hour work week. Exposure limits for products' hazardous or toxic components are listed on each product's Safety Data Sheet.

Safety Data Sheets

When choosing an art material, review and understand its known hazards by reading the product label and Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Safety Data Sheets provide detailed information—such as toxicity, flammability, reactivity, and precautions for safe handling—about specific chemicals or products. They are useful in your process of material selection and critical for the safe handling of emergency situations.

Because of their importance, SAIC is legally required to make them readily available to the community. Reading, understanding, and following the guidelines in a material’s SDS can prevent harmful exposure to yourself and others around you. SDSs can be found electronically at MSDS online. If you cannot find the appropriate Safety Data Sheet, send an email to and provide the following information:

  • Product name, as printed on the label
  • Manufacturer or distributor name
  • Catalog or product number

Safety in the Residence Halls


  • Do not leave food cooking unattended in your room or in the common kitchen area.
  • Cook only when you are alert and not sleepy or drowsy.
  • To put out a small pan fire. If you feel comfortable doing so, slide a lid over the pan and turn off the burner. Keep the pan covered until it is completely cool.
  • If a fire starts in a microwave oven, keep the microwave door closed and unplug the unit. Do not try to remove the burning contents or container from the microwave oven.
  • Kitchens are not to be used for artmaking of any kind.


  • Plug appliances directly into an outlet in lieu of extension cords. Do not overload electrical circuits.
  • Use only Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listed appliances
  • The following appliances are prohibited in the residence halls:
    • Open-element appliances, such as space heaters and broilers
    • Sun lamps
    • Potpourri pots (candles or electric)
    • Halogen lamps/tungsten lights 


Candles are prohibited in the residence halls unless the wick has been completely cut or the candle has never been burned.


  • Do not hang objects from the ceiling, overhead pipes, or sprinkler heads.
  • All decorations must be fire-rated or rated fire retardant or noncombustible.
  • All electrical decorations must be UL listed and rated for indoor use.
  • Inspect decoration for damaged wires, loose connections, or cracked sockets before each use.
  • Lights and decorations should be turned off when the area is not occupied.
  • Do not install decorations in areas that may cover or conceal exits, sprinkler heads, or fire safety devices, or reduce the width of an exit path. 


  • Never place power cords across traffic paths or under carpets.
  • Never tack or nail cords.
  • Never plug extension cords into other extension cords. 

Evacuation Drills

  • Participate in evacuation drills as if they were real. Evacuation drills are conducted several times throughout the year. All residents and guests occupying the building at the time of the drill are required to participate in the evacuation.
  • Review evacuation routes and floor plans to internal stairwells and exterior fire escapes. Evacuation routes and floor plans are posted on each floor.
  • Learn the location of all exits and routes out of your building.

Smoke Alarms and Fire Alarms

  • Make sure your room is equipped with a smoke alarm.
  • Fire alarm pull stations are located on each floor of every building.
  • Activation of any fire detection device (including heat detectors, pull stations, sprinkler heads, or sprinkler valves) will trigger the building alarm system.
  • Tampering with the fire equipment is a felony offense in the state of Illinois.
  • When the smoke or fire alarm sounds, get out of the building quickly and do not return until the "all clear" is given by Campus Security or emergency responders.


Smoking cigarettes, pipes, hookahs, burning candles, lighting incense, or any other fire code violation is prohibited in any residence hall room.

Safety in the Offices and Classrooms

A large percentage of workplace accidents and injuries occur in office buildings and classrooms. Common causes of injuries and illnesses include:

  • Slipping, tripping, and falling hazards
  • Burning, cutting, and pinching hazards
  • Improper lifting and handling practices
  • Unobservant and inattentive staff
  • Improper office layout and arrangement
  • Electrical wiring and appliances
  • Exposure to hazardous materials
  • Horseplay

Good Housekeeping 

  • Keep office floors neat and clean to eliminate most slipping, tripping, and falling hazards.
  • Ensure that office lighting is adequate. Complete 360 Work Request to replace burned-out bulbs or if additional lighting is needed.
  • Ensure electrical, computer and phone cords and cables do not cross walkways or otherwise pose a tripping hazard. Do not tape cords or run them underneath carpet.
  • Report tripping hazards such as damaged tile and carpet immediately.
  • Clean up spills immediately.
  • Store items in designated storage spaces. Take care not to stack boxes too highly or tightly.

Hazardous Objects and Materials

Excluding employees authorized to carry a weapon in performance duties, employees are forbidden to possess a weapon on SAIC premises. In addition, hazardous chemicals and materials should not be stored in the general office area. Hazardous materials include but are not limited to the following:

  • Flammables
  • Combustibles
  • Gas Cylinders
  • Any other hazardous or toxic substances

Preventing Cuts and Punctures

Cuts and punctures happen when people use everyday office supplies without exercising care or paying attention to detail. Below are a few guidelines to reduce cuts and punctures:

  • When sealing envelopes, use a liquid dispenser in lieu of your tongue.
  • Be careful while using kitchen knives, scissors, staplers, letter openers, box cutters, and X-ACTO knives. Only use these items for their intended purposes.
  • Avoid picking up broken glass with your bare hands. If possible, wear gloves and use a broom and dustpan or contact the IRFM helpline at 9 IRFM for assistance.
  • Place used blades or broken glass in a rigid container, such as a box, before disposing of them in a wastebasket. 

  • Only use equipment and machines that you know how to operate. Never attempt to operate a machine that is unfamiliar without reading operating instructions or receiving directions from a qualified employee. In addition, follow these guidelines to prevent injury while operating equipment and machines:

    • Do not place machines near the edge of a table or desk.
    • Ensure that machines with moving parts are guarded to prevent accidents. Do not remove guards. Defective guards should be replaced.
    • If defective, unplug the machine until it is serviced.
    • Do not use any equipment or machinery that smokes, shocks, or appears defective in any way.
    • Close hand-operated paper cutters after each use and activate the guard.
    • Use caution when removing paper jams from copy machines. Remember that some parts may be hot. If you are unfamiliar with the equipment, contact CRIT for assistance.
    • Avoid wearing the following items around machines with unguarded moving parts:
      • Loose belts
      • Jewelry
      • Long, loose hair
      • Long, loose sleeves or pants
      • Scarves
      • Ties 

  • The best way to avoid slips, trips, and falls is to pay attention to your surroundings and avoid running or rushing. To prevent injuries to others, follow these guidelines:

    • Arrange office furniture in a manner that provides unobstructed areas for movement.
    • Keep stairs, steps, flooring, and carpeting well maintained. Place a 360 Work Request if you notice damage to stairs, flooring, or carpeting.
    • Glass doors should have some type of marking to keep people from walking through them.
    • Clean up fluid spills.
    • Do not place wastebaskets or other objects in egress paths and walkways.
    • Close file draws immediately after use.
    • Never climb on shelves and file drawers.
    • Be aware of the risk of slips and falls when entering the building during inclement weather.

Preventing Physical Stress and Fatigue

To reduce physical stress on the body and prevent fatigue, take mini-breaks throughout the day. If possible, change tasks throughout the day. Stretch your arms, neck, and legs often, if you’re sitting at a desk for long periods of time.

Furniture & Other Equipment

Office furniture and other equipment such as file cabinets, shelves, desks, chairs, and stepladders should also be considered as a potential source of injury and special care should be taken to avoid accidents.

Desks, File Cabinets, and Shelves

  • Secure file cabinets that are not weighted at the bottom by either bolting them to floors or walls.
  • Ensure that file cabinet drawers cannot easily be pulled clear of the cabinet.
  • Do not block vents with file cabinets or shelves.
  • Open only one drawer at a time to keep the cabinet from toppling.
  • Close cabinet and desk drawers when they are not in use.
  • Secure shelves by bolting them to floors or walls.
  • Place heavy objects on the bottom of shelves.
  • Ensure there are at least 18 inches between top shelves and the sprinklers.

Office Chairs

  • Do not lean back in office chairs, particularly swivel chairs with rollers.
  • Use a ladder in lieu of standing on a chair.
  • Office chairs should be equipped with adjustable back supports and seat height. Make sure your chair back support and seat height are comfortable.
  • Take care when sitting in a chair with rollers to prevent the chair from rolling out from under you when you sit down.
  • Do not roll chairs over electrical cords.


Always use a ladder or step stool to reach any item above your extended arm height. Never use a makeshift device, such as a desk, file cabinet, bookshelf, or box as a substitute for a ladder.