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Try not to die

October 2, 2017
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We had a short essay published in a local journal “All The Art”. Tom, aka Sparky, is featured as a What Not to Do.

Below is the text.  Be safe!

Try Not to Die: Practical Shop Safety for Artists

By Sue Pruchnicki and Tom Peterson

On December 2, 2016, 36 people were killed in the ‘Ghost Ship’ artist’s warehouse fire in Oakland, California. The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but it begs the question: “Could this have been prevented?” There will never be an easy answer to that question, but maybe, in response, we can take some sensible steps to stay safe.

During our day jobs as architects, we work with building codes, inspectors and fire marshals to design compliant buildings. Our nights and weekends are spent in a historic building where we live and work in our combined shop and art studio. The Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts (VLAA) and All the Art recently invited us to talk about safety as part of a +Critical Mass Conversation. Based on our presentation, we wanted to share some basic tips to stay safe yet still enjoy your creative space.

Let’s review the essentials:

  • EXITS
    • Know where they are, including doors and windows. Have several exits at spread-out locations so there’s more than one way to get out.
    • Make sure exits operate easily. Sometimes older windows may not open at all due to broken cords on the interior mechanisms. Check windows and doors regularly to make sure they can always be easily opened.
    • Don’t block exits or their pathways with stored items.
    • If an exit is locked, store a spare key in an easily accessible spot nearby.
    • Strategically place lights or flash lights along your pathways in case of a power outage.
  • FLAMMABLE MATERIALS
    • Oily rags can spontaneously combust. Store them in a fireproof container away from other materials. Store oils, paints and solvents in a metal cabinet away from flammable supplies. Clear flammable items away from your work area if you may generate sparks. You can also protect the area with sheet metal or noncombustible shields.
  • ELECTRICITY
    • There are never outlets where you need them, so people tend to build a ‘Tetris’ of plugs into the single available outlet, which can often cause sparks and even fires. Remove nearby flammable items.
    • Do the math on your power cords. Every item with a power cord attached is required to list the amps it draws. Extension cords will also be labelled. Make sure your extension cord is up for the task. Most outlets are designed to only handle 15 to 20 amps, which could likely be just enough for only using one power tool at a time. This goes for power strips, too. Most barely have capacity beyond an extension cord. Be aware of their amp limit.
    • Never use skinny extension cords. They’re fine for charging your phone, but that’s it.
    • Don’t use extension cords while coiled. The electricity will build up heat and cause a fire. Make sure cords are not frayed or have worn insulation.
  • PUTTING OUT FIRES
    • Keep multiple fire extinguishers in strategic separate locations in cleared paths.
    • Know your fire extinguisher’s type, typically labelled as A (for paper, wood and plastic), B (for flammable and combustible liquids), and/or C (electrical equipment). Using the wrong type can make a fire worse. If in doubt, look for the dry chemical type that works for all types of fires, labeled ‘A B C’.
    • Fire extinguishers have a dial near the handle. This indicates if they are still charged. Some types also need to be shaken regularly to stay functional. Read the label on your fire extinguisher, check the charge and shake it once every six months.
  • PERSONAL PROTECTION
    • Invest in a good respirator, not the disposable paper kind. A cartridge respirator with replaceable filters costs less than twenty dollars and is much more comfortable.
    • Protect your most precious tools: your eyes and hands. Use face shields and have a variety of work gloves and safety glasses available.

No one expects to be a part of a tragedy, just like those involved in the Ghost Ship fire. But it does happen. So be sure to carry out these simple tips to keep your creative space safe.

Try not to die. Don’t make your momma cry!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Nancy permalink
    October 2, 2017 10:32 pm

    Thanks for an important post. I was unaware that it was unsafe to use a coiled extension cord.

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