42nd Annual Meeting – Health & Safety Group Session, May 31st, "Medical Evaluations for Museum and Collection Care Professionals" by Ruth Norton and David Hinkamp

Ruth Norton and David Hinkamp presented “Medical Evaluations for Museum and Collection Care Professionals” at the first Health and Safety Session at AIC.
Ruth Norton started off by discussing a case study of a natural history collection that had been treated with toxic chemicals such as arsenic to deter infestations.  To determine if there were residual chemicals in storage and the ambient environment, a variety of tests were conducted for compounds such as lead, arsenic, mercury, organochlorine, and organophosphate.  The results of the study concluded that most chemicals were below accepted target levels.
The museum instituted written procedures for working in collection areas and handing arsenic-contaminated objects.  Good hygiene practices and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) were also employed.   Finally, every workroom and storage room was “deep cleaned” annually to mitigate the spread of dust and other airborne contaminants.
Dave Hinkamp, a physician in occupational medicine, followed Ruth’s talk with a discussion on health and safety hazards in collection work, assessing hazards in the workplace, healthcare professionals, information to tell one’s healthcare professional and what steps one can take now.
When approaching health care professionals, tell them about your work duties, materials used (e.g. adhesives, formaldehyde, etc.), and unique aspects of your work.  Concerns that should be discussed include acute episodes such as asthma, personal health issues such as pregnancy, chronic exposure such as long periods of work with possible hazard, and any other health problems.
Two points that really stood out to me:

  1. Identify your work hazards and their effects.
  2. Protect yourself by either eliminating, substituting, controlling, or limiting your exposure to toxic substances.  Employ PPE and don’t eat, drink, or touch your face at your workstation!