If you've ever watched a glass blower at work, you might have marveled at her ability to sculpt molten glass.The glass begins to cool as soon as it's removed from the furnace, so a glass blower has to work fast to get the shapes and details she wants. But no matter how fast she's moving, she'd better be thinking about safety every step of the way. If glass blowers don't take sufficient safety precautions, they can suffer serious injuries or long-term health problems from the furnaces they use and the artful pieces they're sculpting.
Imagine the hottest summer day in the hottest place you've visited. Now increase that by about 200 percent. A glass blower's furnace can reach temperatures well over 2000 degrees. No fan or air conditioner is going to keep you cool when you're working with that kind of a furnace. In summer months, even the glass blower's shop can feel like a furnace, potentially reaching temperatures above 130 degrees. All that heat is going to take its toll on anyone, potentially leading to heat exhaustion and dehydration. The best defense is to keep hydrated. Glass blowers should drink plenty of water throughout the workday.
Being subjected to heat is one thing -- coming into direct contact with the fire or the molten glass it produces adds a whole new level of risk. The resulting burns can be horrific. Even if you don't directly touch flames or heated materials, the clothing you wear while making glass can cause serious burns. Synthetic materials like polyester can melt under extreme heat conditions. If your clothing melts it can fuse into your skin. Glassblowers should wear clothing made from natural, breathable fibers like cotton.
In a glass blowing shop, eye injuries can result from both visible and invisible hazards. Glass blowers do sometimes drop the pieces they're trying to sculpt -- and shattering glass can easily become projectiles. If glass shards reach your eyes, they can cause serious cuts. Infrared and ultraviolet radiation released by the furnaces in the shop are less obvious eye hazards. The damage caused by these hidden hazards won't be noticed right away, but extended exposure can cause cataracts. Safety glasses with infrared and ultraviolet filters should always be worn.
The chemicals involved with glass blowing can introduce respiratory problems. Clear glass contains silica, sand, sodium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate. Recycled glass can contain a variety of unknown chemical substances. Whatever chemicals are present, the glass-blowing process releases them into the air as vapors and dust particles. The shop must have a strong ventilation system and it should be checked regularly to make sure it's in proper working order. As an added precaution, some glass blowers might elect to wear respirators.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.