Safety First


Safety First

I’m sure you’re thinking that “safety first” is a no-brainer.  In many cases you’re right, but this article is devoted to those other cases.  For starters, unless you’re in your own private practice, you can’t be certain that those working alongside of you are of the same safety mindset you are.  To illustrate, I’ll share the story of an open recreation group I supervised one day while I was employed at an inpatient psychiatric hospital.  The group was on a unit I was not regularly assigned to, thus I wasn’t familiar with the patients.  I had been instructed to make the unit’s art supplies available, so I brought them out in their large plastic tubs and set the tubs on a table.  I then got caught up in mingling with patients as they played ping pong and board games.  When I returned to the art table to do some mingling there, I was shocked to find that a fragile-looking patient had gotten a hold of a spool of leather cord.  Leather cord?!?!?  Which one of my coworkers had thought it wise to bring such a thing to an inpatient psychiatric hospital?  Given the setting it was, I had assumed the materials in the art bins were all suitable for the population being served.  Since I had no relationship with the fragile-looking woman clinging to the spool of leather cord, a staff member who knew her was able to extract it from her hands, much to her dismay.  A close call.  Who knows if she’d had any harmful intentions, but I’m glad no one had to find out the hard way.  So much for trusting the judgement of coworkers.


Even if a material seems like it would be harmless in the hands of anyone, don’t be too sure.  I spent 5.5 years working in a men’s maximum-security psychiatric prison, and one of the things this experience taught me was that anything and everything can be turned into something for use against self and others.  The Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville features an exhibit of hand-made weapons, including shanks (knives) made from a pâpier-maché process using toilet paper and toothpaste powder.  Innocuous-enough materials can also be used to plug the lock mechanism in doors, so that’s just one more thing to consider.  And then there’s the whole issue of germs and bacteria.  Those of you who work with children are aware of these things (and hopefully are using nontoxic supplies with these young clients, by the way), but have you ever thought about what happens when you let client A use the art materials that were in client B’s hands during the previous session?  I provide hand sanitizer to my clients before and after sessions (if they’d rather go find a bathroom to wash their hands instead, that’s fine) and keep sanitizing hand wipes available during my experiential workshops and presentations when art materials are shared.


Visible, tangible scary stuff and invisible, intangible scary stuff…I guess October is the perfect month for exploring all things scary, including art materials!  No tricks here; treat yourselves and your clients to safety first when it comes to selecting supplies for use in therapy sessions. Consider the possible physical safety hazards, including the spread of infectious illnesses, associated with all materials and equipment being used and take preventive action accordingly.


With appreciation for the important work you do,

Megan October 2011

About the Image on This Page

This is a thumbnail of Free Texture, posted to The Public Domain website by Mitch Featherston in 2012. Click here for more information.