Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Gear Up, People!

Maybe you've noticed my new profile photo up there in the lefthand corner and gone, "Jesus, as if letting her hair go gray weren't enough." I'm going to change it on Facebook, too, and the reason I took that photo is because it's important.

I kind of waited a while before telling you this story to make sure it has a happy ending, because at the time it was pretty scary, and it was totally my fault and something that made me feel really, really stupid.

I was dyeing. Now, y'all know this is something I do rather a *lot* as in several times a month, and I've been doing it for several years. After a while, I learned to be more careful and started wearing a bandanna doubled over my nose and mouth, as well as latex gloves. 

And here I have to say something about dust masks and respirators. We were at the polling place on election day (yes, the same one where we were behind Claytie), and one of the workers was walking around with a dust mask over her face. I figured she had a compromised immune system, but when someone asked her if she were sick or were just making sure she didn't GET sick, she said, no, she was just hugely allergic to perfume. This kind of stuff just makes me nuts, because I've heard people say stuff like this before. I want to print out the OSHA guidelines and hand them a copy, but I'm guessing the word "particulate" would be about as far as they'd get, reading-wise. Here's the deal: a dust mask, or a folded bandanna, will filter out *only* particulates, or dust. Cat fur. Lint. Stuff that comes in particles and gets in the air. You'd wear a dust mask when you were sweeping or using a leaf blower or working with powdered stuff, like dye before you mix it in water. That's why I was wearing a bandanna over my nose and mouth. It wouldn't have filtered out fumes, but it kept me from inhaling the powdered dye. That dust mask over that woman's face? It didn't do squat for the fumes from perfume, or from anything else.


So if you're working with solvent or thinner or anything you don't want in your lungs, forget the dust mask. You need a respirator AND a ton of ventilation (open windows! a ventilator fan! the great outdoors! or how about avoiding those chemicals entirely and figure out something else to use?)

On this particular day I was adding the soda ash to the dye bath, masked and gloved up as usual. I mix it with hot water, stir it up, and turn the water on in the washing machine by setting it to a higher fill level. I hold the cup of soda ash under the water to let it dilute as it runs into the dye bath, something I've done a hundred times before. And as it splashed into the cup, a drop—a single drop—leapt up and hit me in the eye. As soon as it hit, it burned, and in one smooth maneuver I wouldn't have thought possible, I hit the knob to turn off the water, ripped off my mask and gloves, and was in the bathroom over the sink with cold running water, all before I took a breath. I washed out my eye for who-knows-how-long. Because I'm one of those people who pays attention to this stuff, I know that you rinse out your eye with cold running water for 15 minutes. But, y'all, do you have any idea how long 15 minutes is when you're leaning over the bathroom sink, holding your eye open? I think it's the equivalent of 1,000 years spent doing something you love, like eating pie. Times slows to a crawl. [Note: you get in the shower, set it on a gentle stream, and do it that way. The 15 minutes is important enough to do that, OK?]

After it quit burning and I figured my eyeball wasn't going to melt and run down my face, I called my optometrist's office and got an emergency appointment and went in. He's a guy not given to a great bedside manner, not that he needs one, doing eyes and stuff, but he finds the stuff I do fascinating: he was my source many years ago when I wrote an article about safety for Rubberstampmadness, and fine glitter was all the rage, and I called him up and asked him about glitter and eye safety (if it's not ground glass glitter, it poses little danger, but you do not want to, you know, deliberately put it in your eyes or anything. Duh). He was really interested in what I had been doing and what chemicals I was using. I was glad I knew that soda ash, also known as "washing powder," is sodium carbonate, not to be confused, as many people do, with sodium bicarbonate, which is baking soda. But then he got me by asking if it was a base, and I had no clue. I still don't, but here's info for you.

We talked about eye safety in doing stuff like this. He rec. the getting-into-the-shower thing for washing out the eye, and he said that goggles are better than safety glasses, which a lot of people prefer because they're more comfortable. He said, "If something splashes onto your forehead, where's it going to go?" Of course: it will run down into your eye. Hence: goggles, rather than open glasses. 

He also rec. keeping a bottle of contact lens solution in the studio as an emergency eye wash. Go out and buy a bottle right. this. minute. OK?

He washed out my eye once again and checked for burns (some very minor stuff on the surface, but nothing serious or permanent), and I hopped in the car and drove across the parking lot to Home Depot and bought this:
I had goggles, but I bought brand-new shiny ones so I'd wear them (the others are old and funky, and the elastic is almost gone and, seriously? They belong to my husband, who wears them doing yard work. Who knows what's in those things?). I bought actual dust masks, since 1) I was kind of freaked out and 2) they were super cheap. And I bought another box of latex gloves just to keep in the dye bin. I keep these on hand in the closet for all kinds of things from filling the bird feeder (to keep the bird poop off me, thank you) to dyeing to anything where I don't want to have to wash stuff off regular rubber gloves but just want to toss them when I'm done. Not very green, I know, but at this point that's not my priority.

[Note: In case you're wondering, no. I do not wear these all the time, all Howard Hughes-with-the-Kleenex-boxes. I don't have those kinds of issues. I do try to take care of my hands, though, because I kind of need them a lot. Even chapped skin is a big deal when you're working with fabric; yesterday I was working with silk, and the rough skin on the tips of my fingers, where I stab myself with the needle, kept catching and pulling the thread in a highly annoying way.]

So if you use anything—anything!— that might splash or drip or pop or poke into your eye, go get some of these and WEAR THEM. I know a couple people who lost an eye. One guy was working on a car and had a wire that snapped off a tiny piece that lunged at him and lodged in his eye. The resultant infection moved to the other eye, too, and he was lucky they could save the sight in that one. Scary stuff.

So, yeah, sure: I look goofy as hell.

But do I care? No, I don't, and you shouldn't either. And that's why I'm changing my profile photo on Facebook: if I can look like this online, you can look like this in the privacy of your workspace. If, indeed, there still *is* such a thing as "privacy."


Unknown said...

I have a best friend who wears her welding goggles to fry cannoli. It's a hoot, but she stays safe and includes photos of the delicious foolishness. The trick is- nothing foolish about this gal, she's smart!
Stay safe.

Unknown said...

My best friend wears her welding goggles to fry cannoli. The photos are a hoot, but that's not as important as the fact that she lives to fry, and paint, and dance, and cypher, and audit, and teach, and make the world a little better another day. All because she's safe.

I used to work with spray paint and diamond dust on theatrical sets. I was young and stupid, I'm glad I know better now-thanks for the glitter tip. It's a wonder I didn't go blind or stop breathing!

madhabitz said...

I used to dye fabrics all the time, 10 hours a day with fiber reactive dyes. I took reasonable precautions but was fairly relaxed about it. I mostly mixed everything up outside.

Did you know Jean Ray Laury? She was a pretty good friend of mine- she got to questioning me in her oh-so-gentle way (gads I miss her) about my practices. I don't think I convinced her that the stuff was safe- especially after she told me how in the 60s artists would blow their noses, with resulting rainbow-colored snot. Hmmm.. I don't think she used the word snot. Just saying'

Anyway, your message is a good one. I like your new photo- it's so you ;-)

Carol said...

love it - you tell 'em, Rice!!

Dawn Gold said...

Sound advice, when I was nursing I hated when I had to go and assist in the eye theatre, eyes are precious and having seen some of the injuries I have I try and take care of them

Ricë said...

Thanks, y'all! Please feel free to share this post so as many people as possible keep this in mind. I don't have all the info they need, but maybe they'll be spurred to do the necessary research for their specific tools and materials. I hope so.

Overexposed and Slightly Bent said...

Good post - no - great post - wish more people would pay attention to safety... Thank you !!! Glad to hear you are o.k. too...!

lynners said...

Sort of different but related on the particulate thing. Here in NZ we have had several people die from inhaling commercial potting mix dust (You know how when you open the bag and the dry compost dust blows up in your face?) The mixes have the same bug that causes legionaires disease, so a face mask is recommended. Also open your potting mix outside, keep your face away from it, and damp it down as soon as you can.

Ricë said...

Whoa! Now there's something I've never even thought about. Thanks for the warning.

freshcityfarm said...

Funniest. Post. Ever.
(well delivered, important message but FUNNY!)

S WC said...

This couldn't have been more timely. I was clipping a nail and it popped into my eye. Oh my. These nails do fly. I was lucky I got it out with eye wash and a cotton ball and it slid out without cutting me. But now I'm trying to figure out how to cut my nails with bifocals when I can't see that well. Do these goggles fit over glasses? I'll need to investigate.