Protecting Stained Glass Workers from Lead Exposure
The Art of Health and Safety
Industrial hygienist David R. Hicks met Ariana Makau, the founder of a company that conserves historical glass works, in October 2019 at an event focused on the control of health and safety hazards in museums, historic sites, conservation treatment, and collection care. The Fourth Annual Safety and Cultural Heritage Summit was presented by the Potomac Local Section of AIHA; the Washington Conservation Guild; the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Safety, Health and Environmental Management; and the Smithsonian National Collections Program in collaboration with the Lunder Conservation Center. At the event, Makau introduced Hicks to issues related to lead exposure in stained glass conservation, and the two began discussing how safety professionals, art conservators, and artists can work together while preserving stained glass as an art form. What does stained glass have to do with lead and lead exposure? A clue is in its more accurate name: “leaded art glass.” Pieces of glass held together with close to 100-percent pure lead strips have been used in window fabrication for close to 1,000 years. Makau and Hicks shared with The Synergist their conversation about how their goals for lead safety in the workplace overlap. The transcript has been edited for clarity.
David R. Hicks (DH): Your company’s motto is “Be Safe. Have Fun. Do Excellent Work.” How did you create it, and how does it shape what you and your workers do at Nzilani Glass Conservation? Ariana Makau (AM): In addition to being an artist, I’m a businesswoman who loves that aspect of my job. I did an exercise a few years ago to distill what we do, and these three pillars became evident. We’d been doing it for years, but clarifying it helped elevate the business for me and the team. It shapes everything we do—if a task doesn’t fulfill the criteria, we don’t do it. Safety literally comes first because it enables us to do the other two things.  DH: What has been your biggest challenge in getting your company in compliance with health and safety regulations in general, and with lead specifically? AM: Once we learned the basic requirements, the biggest challenge was financial. This may be the biggest bottleneck in the entire system. I’ve had people pull me aside at conferences to whisper that they know what to do but can’t afford it. People ultimately want to do the right thing, but are ashamed and scared they’ll be fined or put out of business if they reach out for help or consultation. If that stigma could be removed by grants or clear benchmarks for scaling up, I think more people would be safe from the get-go. 

DH: Did your graduate work in stained glass conservation at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art in London include information on health and safety regulations or requirements? AM: Yes, but only in the context of working on relatively small pieces within the sheltered environment of a museum. Also, remember this was over 20 years ago in another country, so the regulatory parameters don’t always translate.  DH: How many people work in your studio? Are they all trained lead workers? AM: How many people work in the studio depends on what projects we have at any given time. We have a core team of glaziers, administration, and management, which we augment with additional employees as needed. The core team has a diverse skill set to intake an object, photograph it, do the hands-on work to rebuild it, and write up the treatment report. Because of this, everyone has basic lead worker training. Additionally, anyone who goes to a construction site to remove or install a window is a certified lead worker—even our operations manager. 
“When everyone is on the same page about safety, specifically around lead, they self-regulate.”
Slideshow Photo Credit: Nzilani Glass Conservation (photos 1–6, 8) and Greg Tuzin (photo 7).

We’ve also found that it’s best to have instructors come to our studio to do our training. That way, they see what we do and the safety protocols we already have in place so they can customize our training. We recently had a refresher class where it was noted that we were an unusual group because we wanted to review our test questions after we’d all passed to discuss why the answers were correct and how they correlated to local, state, and federal regulations. When everyone is on the same page about safety, specifically around lead, they self-regulate.  DH: What level of health and safety awareness do you see with other firms?  AM: I’ve seen a range of health and safety awareness in other studios. It isn’t always the case that a larger or older studio has better protocols. I believe everyone essentially wants to be safe while getting on with their work. Often the perception is that those are mutually exclusive. I’m hoping to be part of the change to say, “That isn’t the case; you can do both.” DH: How did you educate yourself about requirements related to working with lead in the United States? AM: It was a personal interest and a desire to “do right.” I knew the stained glass studios I visited didn’t have set parameters and there wasn’t an industry standard. I did a lot of research on the internet and reached out to companies that did material sample testing and blood lead level testing for various industries. I asked my doctors. I was relentless, and many times I felt daunted. It wasn’t easy, and it felt like the barrier to entry of even having a worthwhile conversation was extremely challenging. Many professionals in industrial hygiene and regulation either approached our questions with very basic answers, like “there may be lead in the materials you use,” or went to the other extreme, bordering on panic, to suggest that we had to use so many precautions, protocols, and so much PPE that there was no way we could have done our job.  I purposely grew my company to incorporate real “boots-on-the-ground” safety measures and have been lucky that we’ve had clients who support that pursuit. Soul-proprietor stained glass conservators or artists currently don’t always have the financial resources to do that. I think that’s extremely unfortunate. I am extraordinarily thankful that we finally paired with someone who both appreciates the arts and what we do, plus they have the knowledge to work with us to apply state and federal regulations to our field.  DH: Are the museums and private parties that require stained glass conservation work aware of the health and safety requirements? AM: Museums are usually very aware of the caution needed to do the work, if not the specific actions—they count on us to be up to date on regulations and to adhere to them. Private parties often have never considered that the beautiful art glass in their homes or buildings has a lead component. Usually they are grateful that we’ve brought it to their attention and that we know what to do to make their environment safe while conserving their pieces. DH: How did you find the right CIH to work with? AM: It was literally trial and error. I always came at it with the intent to learn, but also knowledgeable about basic safety and how to do our job. In the early days, I was often given pedantic responses to reasonable questions just because I didn’t use the right lingo. I’m also a woman of color business owner, which definitely affected some conversations negatively.  Ultimately, we found someone who previously worked at OSHA and is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and Certified Hazardous Materials Manager with a Master of Public Health in Industrial Hygiene from UC Berkeley. She had experience as an environmental health and safety manager at a junior college, where she helped the art department come into OSHA compliance. Karen Gunderson’s combination of being curious about the various stages of our production before implementing any instruction has been key to us continuing to learn and grow together in our quest to improve Nzilani’s safety. DH: How do you share what you’ve learned in your business with others? AM: I do a lot of community outreach with groups starting as young as elementary school. I feel it is invaluable to disseminate information outside the industry about lead exposure from stained glass and how to interact with it safely. Professionally, I attend and present at various conferences and am part of different industry organizations, including the Stained Glass Association of America, where I am a board member and the health and safety chair. The SGAA produces the magazine Stained Glass Quarterly, which includes a small safety article that I write in most issues. In contrast to in-depth presentations, I tailor the articles to have “bite-size” tips that are manageable for anyone in the industry. You can always scale them up, but I want to ensure everyone at any level can consider one thing per article to make their work environment a safer place. DH: What is something you have done that might be a unique solution for your business? AM: From the start of Nzilani, I wanted to add solder fume evacuation to the studio environment. It seemed out of reach other than just a fan, an open window, and hoping for the best. A few years in, after moving to a larger space, I reached out to a local museum and asked them for a fume hood extractor reference. A contractor came out and spec’d the job, and the cost was astronomical. But the meeting was beneficial in that it helped us drill down on key components of what we needed to have a successful system. We then built our own—we are of course innovators and builders—and then connected with our site hygienist to test the efficacy of the draft. In addition, we custom-built articulated hood holders that cantilever over the panels at the proper distance and angle as we solder. Being the ones who built it means we can service it if there are any issues. We also understand how and why it works, which ties it back to the motto of excellence, self-regulation, and safety. For us, the “why” is as important as the “how.”
“It is eye-opening to hear about lead in other areas such as lead pigments and lead used in stained glass.”
Ariana Makau (AM): When did you realize there were health and safety issues within the arts conservation world? David R. Hicks (DH): Yesterday! Well, not quite, but close. I attended a session at the AIHA Fall Conference in 2014 titled “Hidden Hazards Within Art and Museum Collections” led by Kathryn Makos, who used to work at the Smithsonian. It made me aware that there were a number of health and safety issues in the museum and art conservation areas. With that knowledge, I started to pay greater attention and most recently attended a safety and cultural  heritage summit in October 2019, where I crossed paths with you and learned about lead issues in stained glass conservation. AM: What are regulators thinking about when they think about lead safety—what types of professions? DH: Most regulators think of traditional types of work like welding, soldering, lead foundries, bridge building, battery manufacturing, and lead paint abatement. These are also the typical examples a health and safety professional hears about in training. It is eye-opening to hear about lead in other areas such as lead pigments and lead used in stained glass.  AM: Generally, how do you think health and safety professionals approach nonprofessionals who are interested in getting to know more about lead safety? DH: All too often, health and safety professionals will approach those outside their area of expertise as a professor and want to enlighten them with their knowledge. That is improving, however, and many health and safety professionals now approach others in a peer-to-peer situation. Learning about the process and how the work is actually done is critical to determine the level of hazards and to develop controls that eliminate or minimize those hazards. I know I’ve learned a lot from having a good discussion and seeking to understand thoroughly what the worker knows and has to say.  AM: Was there ever any discussion of museums or art collections with regard to health and safety concerns during regulatory training? DH: To give my instructors over the years the benefit of the doubt, it may have been mentioned, but only in passing. The concept of health and safety hazards in museums is one that makes sense when you think about it, though: museums house works built with materials and techniques long before there was an OSHA or EPA. These artistic and/or historic works can contain any number of hazardous materials, including lead, arsenic, asbestos, formaldehyde, and more.  AM: How can those in the arts world find industrial hygienists to work with? DH: AIHA’s directory of consultants at consultants is helpful. There is also a listing of AIHA Local Sections where you can find someone located in your geographic area. Some industrial hygienists may not be comfortable branching out into an area they have not practiced in previously, but others will be excited by the challenge! AM: Are you aware of any conferences or organizations that bring together health and safety professionals and those in the arts profession? DH: The Annual Safety and Cultural Heritage Summit that is held in Washington, D.C., each fall is the first that comes to mind. It’s a great way for professionals from the art conservation and museum areas to interact with those from the IH and safety professions. The American Institute for Conservation also has a Health and Safety Committee, and that group leads sessions at the AIC Annual Meeting. (Note: Ariana was scheduled to speak at the 2020 AIC Conference about lead safety in stained glass, but her talk was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.) AM: How often have you seen outreach beyond the standard workplace for industrial hygiene needs? DH: Standard workplaces such as factories or construction sites were certainly the beginning of industrial hygiene and safety efforts. However, in recent years I think that IH professionals have moved beyond those areas to consider all types of work and workers. This has expanded our scope, but it also requires that we expand our vision and knowledge. There are unique challenges for areas like those of work-from-home workers that we have really just begun to work through and understand. Also, art conservation either in museums or independent businesses has not been in the spotlight of our professional focus, but has hazards that require our attention to protect workers.   ARIANA MAKAU is president and principal conservator of Nzilani Glass Conservation in Oakland, California, and health and safety chair of the Stained Glass Association of America. DAVID R. HICKS, CIH, CSP, CHMM, is a safety and occupational health manager in the federal government, past chair of the AIHA Safety Committee, and president-elect of the Potomac Local Section of AIHA.  Send feedback to The Synergist.
Photos courtesy of Nzilani Glass Conservation and Greg Tuzin.
From the Synergist Archives
The digital version of the May 2016 Synergist includes an article originally published in July 2003 about industrial hygiene challenges related to museums and collections. See “Hidden Hazards: Health and Safety in Museums and Art Galleries” in the digital Synergist.
Although the print version of The Synergist indicated The IAQ Investigator's Guide, 3rd edition, was already published, it isn't quite ready yet. We will be sure to let readers know when the Guide is available for purchase in the AIHA Marketplace.
My apologies for the error.
- Ed Rutkowski, Synergist editor
Disadvantages of being unacclimatized:
  • Readily show signs of heat stress when exposed to hot environments.
  • Difficulty replacing all of the water lost in sweat.
  • Failure to replace the water lost will slow or prevent acclimatization.
Benefits of acclimatization:
  • Increased sweating efficiency (earlier onset of sweating, greater sweat production, and reduced electrolyte loss in sweat).
  • Stabilization of the circulation.
  • Work is performed with lower core temperature and heart rate.
  • Increased skin blood flow at a given core temperature.
Acclimatization plan:
  • Gradually increase exposure time in hot environmental conditions over a period of 7 to 14 days.
  • For new workers, the schedule should be no more than 20% of the usual duration of work in the hot environment on day 1 and a no more than 20% increase on each additional day.
  • For workers who have had previous experience with the job, the acclimatization regimen should be no more than 50% of the usual duration of work in the hot environment on day 1, 60% on day 2, 80% on day 3, and 100% on day 4.
  • The time required for non–physically fit individuals to develop acclimatization is about 50% greater than for the physically fit.
Level of acclimatization:
  • Relative to the initial level of physical fitness and the total heat stress experienced by the individual.
Maintaining acclimatization:
  • Can be maintained for a few days of non-heat exposure.
  • Absence from work in the heat for a week or more results in a significant loss in the beneficial adaptations leading to an increase likelihood of acute dehydration, illness, or fatigue.
  • Can be regained in 2 to 3 days upon return to a hot job.
  • Appears to be better maintained by those who are physically fit.
  • Seasonal shifts in temperatures may result in difficulties.
  • Working in hot, humid environments provides adaptive benefits that also apply in hot, desert environments, and vice versa.
  • Air conditioning will not affect acclimatization.
Acclimatization in Workers

Why Is the Prevalence of Asthma Increasing?
It is not clear why the prevalence of asthma has increased, but a 2019 journal article focused on the epidemiology of asthma in children and adults describes several hypotheses that have been considered over the years:
  1. increased exposure to indoor allergens due to tighter insulation in modern housing as well as the increased use of plush furniture and carpets has contributed to an increase in asthma and other allergies
  2. reduced exposure to “unhygienic environments” early in life may lead to the increased prevalence of asthma and similar conditions
  3. the “microbial diversity” hypothesis, which suggests that “microbial diversity in the gut mucosa and respiratory tract are the key factors in priming and regulating the immune system” (therefore a lack of exposure to nonpathogenic microbes might explain the increased prevalence of asthma and other allergic diseases)