Chapter 18: Safety and Health Issues within Storage Spaces

Kathryn A. Makos, CIH, MPH, Industrial Hygienist, Rockville, MD; David Hinkamp, MD, MPH, Co-Director Health in the Arts Program, University of Illinois at Chicago, IL; James R. Smith, Jr., ASP, Occupational Safety Manager, Office of Safety, Health and Environmental Management, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Storage areas are also worksites that include safety and health hazards not always evident to collections care staff, interns and visiting researchers, who may be focused on conservation, study and management. Collections professionals may encounter toxic materials, working at heights and other hazards that require training and an understanding of safe work practices.  Handling or shelving contaminated objects, and cleaning or building their cases, can disturb toxic particulates, expose the user to accumulated organic vapors, or involve safety risks such as power tool use, lifting and falls. Biohazards exist in post-mortem collections. Malfunctioning cryogenic or anoxic gas systems pose serious oxygen deficiency risks. Renovation of facilities or exhibit dioramas, or disposal of cabinets, must include testing for and proper removal of hazardous structural materials (e.g., asbestos, lead paint, arsenic residues). Storage facilities are regulated by complex environmental protection and spill control programs. Identified hazards must be documented in the collection record and disclosed to recipients.  Prevention of adverse health effects may require exposure monitoring and medical evaluations. An effective safety program depends on routine, pro-active training for collection users, verbal and posted signage communicating potential risks, implementation of preventive measures, and periodic reviews to validate effectiveness of these controls.

Key words:  collection hazards, museum workplace, zoonosis, collection safety programs