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Health and Safety in Our Hobby

Health and Safety Huh, What is it Good for? 

Many of you will read this with a sense of impending dread. You will associate health and safety with needless form filling, bureaucracy and high visibility jackets and (In the UK at least), the banning of conkers.

I work in the field of health and safety, and some of what you read in the papers is garbage and some of it (particularly where councils are concerned) is sadly true. I’ve worked primarily in the steel industry and on major infrastructure projects in the construction industry and in no way was health and safety unnecessary or superfluous in those situations.

In the last 40 years, the number of people killed by accidents at work in the UK has fallen from around 650 to 100. This is only the tip of the iceberg, and the serious injury rate has also halved within that time as well. Clearly health and safety is necessary and is (apparently) doing something.

Common Sense? 

Health and Safety isn’t just about the mythical beast ‘common sense’ as the world isn’t always intuitive and indeed is often counter intuitive. As an example, explain why Dave has got vibration white finger but Nigel hasn’t – even though they do the same job?* Common sense can’t do that.

We experience the world through flawed human senses and process it with our even more flawed human brains using utterly fallible human emotions and somewhat patchy human experience. We also have a nasty habit of needing to learn by experience: we all know what ‘hot’ is because we’ve been burnt.

Now imagine if ‘hot’ was ‘will rip your arm off’. We need a better way of getting the arm ripping information across than by common sense (and as a corollary, experience) because that means that someone has to get their arm ripped off to know the risk.

The core of health and safety is (somewhat obviously) trying to get people through the working day without them being brutally mangled (Safety) and through their working lives without getting hideous diseases that will destroy the pleasure they get from their free time and retirement (Health).

Basic Principles

In general terms, health and safety is about getting the right resources to the right areas to prevent badness from happening. In doing so health and safety people use special language that includes terms like:

Hazard: The potential for something to cause harm .In 40K terms, a Deff Dredd is a bigger hazard than a boy with a big shoota because the Deff Dredd can do a LOT more damage.

Risk: How likely it is that harm is actually going to occur. This is linked to probability (i.e. how often the hazard occurs).

The Hazard is the Deff Dredd. The Risk is that trooper Nige will have all his limbs ripped off and the remaining bits set on fire. 

 So it is possible to have a low risk from a big hazard, because the chances of the thing occurring are very low.

The Hazard is still the same. Assuming the Deff Dredd can't climb, the Risk is now much lower. 
Although the Hazard is now lower, the Risk may be higher, because those Orks can come and get Trooper Nige. 

So the trick is to balance the things that happen all the time but result in minor harm with the things that virtually never happen but will absolutely Wreck Face when they do.

This is actually something that BP failed to understand, twice and often marks the boundary between occupational safety and process safety.

The Point, Finally 

Which brings me onto the purpose of this article. Our hobby is pretty safe (and you’d be crazy to suggest otherwise) and most of the things that can go wrong are unlikely to kill, maim or burn you too much. 

So, the point of this is to introduce the topic, and hopefully, save you from a painful accident or a trip to A&E or –more seriously- from having to replace a gore soaked carpet or explain to a landlord what a ‘vapour cloud explosion’ is and why they need to replace all the doors and windows in the front of their house.

Things that will hack through your soft, warm flesh. (Safety)

Knives (Choppas)

Craft knives are essential for our hobby. They are also deliberately very sharp (dead choppy). The ones I use are as sharp as surgical scalpels although nowhere near as sterile, meaning that after I’ve accidentally performed a resection of my thumb, I’ll have a nice staphylococcus infection to look forward to as well.

So how do you go about not slitting yourself from arsehole to earlobe with your hobby knife?

- Cut on a hard surface, never whilst holding the work piece in your hand.

A hard surface in this case means a table or a desk. Not your gym fit six pack. This means that if you slip, the knife goes into the desk, not you. If you also want to protect Mum’s antique Chippendale writing bureau (and hence reduce the chances of parentally induced defenestration) use a plastic cutting mat like this one:

Tame hobby monkey doing it right.
- Always use a sharp knife.

Blunt knives require more effort to go through the medium, meaning slips will be more frequent and more likely to impale or sever bits of you.

A hobby knife is an essential piece of kit, so if you’re still using Mum’s bread knife to remove injection residue from Spesh Murrhins  go and get one. Good tools repay their cost a thousand times and a Swann Morton knife and some spare blades will cost less than £10.

For those of you who are using hobby knives, replace the blade regularly – they are dirt cheap, so don’t Fagin out on this.

- Don’t use excessive force.

Hobby knives are for cutting small bits off things, e.g. removing sprues or weapon parts. Use a saw to remove large bits and injection ports on large (e.g. Forgeworld) models. Alternatively, carve larger things away in little bits rather than in one go.

When cutting thick plasticard, multiple low pressure passes along a line will be safer, easier and more accurate than carving your way through with maximum effort.

Can you see what he's doing wrong here? No banana for Charlie. 

Case Study: Jorf (Real name protected)

A long standing GW employee named Jorf was escorted to hospital under Police escort because he was trying to ‘chop a grid into a wooden doorstop’ in his hand, with an extremely sharp knife. Jorf slipped and had to go to hospital to have stitches and antibiotics. Ironically. Jorf was doing this to make the door stop less slippery when wet, and hence, safer.
Jorf + knife = this.

Side Clippers (Snippas)

Provided you don’t put your finger between the clipper blades and squeeze the handles (ain’t no cure for stupid), clippers are pretty safe.

Residual risk from clippers comes from the catapult effect – whereby the piece being clipped breaks suddenly, sending a little piece of sharp plastic pinging across the room at sub-light velocity. Usually, this isn’t a problem unless you needed said piece.

However, attached to your face are two round, soft, squishy and easily damaged things called eyes. Introducing hard, jagged items into said eyes at high speed is going to be (at the very least) incredibly painful. Worse can happen – although eyeball puncture is unlikely from clippers.
(For eyeball puncture, you really need a ricochet from a nail gun.)
I could put a picture up of an eye perforated by a nail, but this is a hobby, not a gore blog. 

In order not to get veloci-tastic plastic in your eye, Hold the clippers vertically so that the piece of plastic goes sideways rather than up. Alternatively, cover the clipped piece with your spare hand so that the clipped piece hits your (much tougher) hand. That way you might even have to spend the next ten minutes crawling round on your knees looking for that elusive bit.

Case Study: Jerf (Real name protected)

A long standing GW employee named Jerf was working with his colleague Dan. Dan was cutting through a metal miniature with a pair of clippers. This was not the correct tool for the job. The cut off piece released suddenly and pinged across the 
room - directly into Jerf's eye. 
The metal piece embedded itself in the surface of Jerf's eye and, in considerable pain, Jerf attended hospital to have it removed. 

Circular Saw attachment for Dremels

I use a Dremel for getting hobby tasks (like removing all the skulls from a realm of battle board) done quickly and efficiently. These Dremels often come with little steel circular saw attachments. 

These things

Whilst these are very good at small cuts, when they’re deep in a work piece, they (like their bigger brothers) have a nasty habit of jamming and kicking back at high speed.

I ended up with a 4mm deep gash across the base of my thumb from one of these. Given the speed at which it happened and the depth of the cut, I was lucky to get away with something I could just slap a plaster over. 

Moral of the story, if you are going to use a circular saw blade on a Dremel, avoid using them for long or deep cuts and never put bits of your body along the line of the cut. I would advise using a vice to hold the bit you’re cutting if you can. 

Spray Cans

Don’t use spray cans inside kids. These are the reasons why:

1. The overspray paint will drop out of suspension in the air and cover everything in the room in a fine, high opacity dust in the colour of the paint. This will not make your parents or your spouse happy.

2. The propellant in most spray cans has a narcotic effect when inhaled. By spraying inside, you’ll end up exposed to much higher concentrations of the propellant and consequently, absolutely off your face on hydrocarbon fumes. For some spray cans with nastier propellants (like Testor’s Dullcoate) you might end up feeling or being quite ill.

As a catch all statement, and because I have no idea what our readership’s demographics are: Glue or spray can sniffing is a really crap idea. Don’t do it, because it’ll fuck you up.

3. If you spray enough, inside a small enough room; you’ll eventually end up with a concentration of propellant in that room sufficient to reach the propellant’s Lower Explosive Limit (LEL). If, at that point, the vapour reaches a source of ignition, you’ll be in the centre of your very own vapour cloud explosion – a bit like Buncefield but personal.

Welcome to vapour cloud explosionville. Population: Your Face


This is dead simple. Don’t leave stuff all over the floor, don’t fall over it and end up headbutting your favourite Stompa to death.

Things that can Bork your health right up (Health)

Whilst all the aforementioned things can cut, slice, lacerate, shave, rupture, slash, shred, pare, rip, claw, tear, burn, blast and and abrade your precious silky smooth skin, the following things can cause permanent and long lasting damage that may not be immediately apparent.


Posture and ergonomics are often overlooked issues but can lead to serious, long term health problems. The problem we as hobbyists have is that through painting or making stuff, we can hold awkward positions for long periods. Over time, we can give develop problems in our upper limbs as well as chronic back problems.

As an illustration, this is Jeff holding the ‘Hobby Ammonite’ position, which is common to many of us. In time, this will wreck the lumbar region of Jeff’s back, his neck and his shoulders.

Here’s Jeff having another go. He’s using the table to rest his arms on, which both ensures that he sits up with a more natural curvature of the spine and helps him to keep his Spesshh Murhinn steady. It will also allow him to make better use of his table lamp.
For reasons unknown, he appears to be leaning to the right. No, I don’t know why either. 

There are a couple of things that you can do to help yourself with posture and ergonomics.

- Use a comfortable, upright, adjustable chair. Office chairs are ideal and can often be bought cheaply second hand. 

- Paint at a table or desk as this will prompt you to sit up and prevent hobby ammonite.

- Ensure you have good quality lighting as this will prevent you from having to hold odd positions to see round shadows.

- Fix your models to something solid to hold. This will prevent you from having to hold tight pinch grips on bases for long. I use bits of 2”x2” and blu tack but old paint pots, sawn up dowel or special model holders work just as well.

- Avoid holding the same position for long periods at a time. Go for a little walk around at least once an hour and change your position in-between times.

- If you’re suffering repetitive pain in part of your body, don’t work through it – it’ll just get worse. Stop, change your posture and get advice. If you're a high end commission painter, it might be worth consulting an ergonomist as to your working position. 


In general, most of us probably don’t use a lot of nasty materials. Cyanoacrylate superglue and polystyrene cement are probably the extent of it and we tend to use those in such tiny quantities that they’re unlikely to cause us much harm.

From time to time, we might use something a bit more hazardous and this is a very quick run down of some of the stuff I’ve come across:

- Two part epoxy adhesives (including green stuff) are known to cause skin issues including allergic dermatitis. Wash your hands after handling these in their ‘wet’ (i.e. uncured) states.

- Avoid using Nitromors or methanol based strippers (including Methylated spirits) for stripping miniatures. Methanol is toxic and volatile (meaning its easy to breathe in) and is known to cause permanent blindness following significant exposure. Also, methanol will ruin plastic and resin miniatures.

- Be careful of old lead miniatures. They’ll be fine most of the time, but avoid using powered tools on them and get rid of any dust promptly. Also, wash your hands after handling them.
IMPORTANT: Do not let children play with or handle lead miniatures as children are acutely vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead exposure and there is probably no safe level of exposure to lead for children. 

Inhaling things

Breathing stuff in is the highest cause of work related death in the UK now, mostly thanks to the UK’s massive (and thankfully, now defunct) asbestos manufacturing industry.

Fortunately, we aren’t using asbestos on our miniatures, at least, I hope we aren’t. but we do sometimes do stuff that generates significant dust or fume. Examples include: airbrushing, sanding resin and plastic and using powered tools on resin and plastic.

In general terms, the amount of exposure a hobbyist is going to get from these activities is going to be minor in comparison to workplace exposure where doing certain activities is part of a person’s job. However, there will be times when you’re going to get more dust than usual – particularly where you’re doing assembly line work or putting together big resin miniatures.

In these cases, the following things will help to reduce your dose of inhaled dust:

- If you do a lot of airbrushing, consider buying or making a spray booth. These will either need to vent outside or be fitted with a particulate filter

- If you need to do a lot of dusty work with resin or plastic, consider getting hold of a particulate respirator. In the EU, I would recommend that you get hold of a reusable respirator with replaceable filters (much cheaper in the long run). The filters should be marked as either P2 or P3 standard and will have a white stripe on the expterior. Order these from somewhere like Arco ( rather than your local DIY store because the stuff you see on sale in DIY stores sometimes isn't the right thing to use. 

Note about respirators: They only work if they make a tight seal on the face. They don’t work if there is facial hair (e.g. a beard, stubble or chops) between the respirator and the face.

- If you do generate a lot of dust, either hoover or wipe it up (with a damp cloth) at the end of the process so that you won’t get exposed again when you disturb it.  

How dangerous is Forgeworld Resin dust?

This could be a very long section, but the short answer is: not particularly.
As an answer to some of the things you see on the forums: it definitely won’t give you pneumoconiosis / the black lung (not enough exposure and wrong type of material); unlikely to give you asthma / endocrine disruption (causative chemicals will have polymerised / reacted), probably won’t give you cancer (although IARC data is a bit sparse on this), makes you poor (true, because you’ll have bought something from Forgeworld first).

However, if you’re going to be doing something that generates a lot of dust, still go through the precautions listed above.

Some general recommendations:

I've gone through some specific hazards that I know about, but there's no realistic way I can go through everything you're likely to do as a hobbyist. So here are soem general recommendations based on my hobby and work experience. 

Split up your activities.

Avoid working like an assembly line. Firstly, this will avoid a lot of the problems of high exposure to (whatever it is), secondly, mass assembling or painting 100 Orks (or whatevers) in a go is sanity crushingly dull, and you will lose efficiency as enthusiasm wanes.

Split up your tasks a little, do a bit of undercoating in-between assembly or take a break from painting to put together a vehicle or monster. This will alter your posture, reduce exposure, and be good for your sanity and productivity. 

Use the right tool for the right job

Know what a tool is for an use it for that purpose – don’t try to get a tool to do something it isn’t made for, because (through experience at work and at home) that’s when things go wrong.

Not for removing ear wax.

If you are getting more into scratch building, heavy converting and other types of modelling, its always worth investing in good quality tools. Good tools will flatter the skills you have whereas poor tools will frustrate them.

Think about the future

Think a bit about what the outcome of an action is going to be before you do it. If you’re drilling through something, bear in mind that at some point the drill bit will come out of the other side.

Get some third hands

Again, if you’re doing a lot of modelling, think about getting some clamps, some rubber bands or maybe a vice. That way, you can make the vice take the risk for you when you’re working at the fine details of Doom Rider with an angle grinder.

Final thought

If you've made it this far, congratulations. This has been a long post. 

The final thing about all of this is: Its about you. 

I'm not going to know whether or not you slice your thumb off in a freak airbrushing accident, but you are. We all (as humans) do stupid things every now and then, try not to let the stupid thing you do be the one that ends up with you in hospital. 


  1. A long and serious post but a liberal sprinkling of humour got me reading happily to the end. Yep, cuts, blunt blades, holding bits and excessive force does mean ouch! I also recommend magnifying lamps to prevent eye strain for us more mature Longbeards.

    1. I am starting to think I should get a magnifying lamp... I've always struggled to see what I'm doing with hardcore details work... :/

  2. Thanks for posting this! Safety should always be addressed when performing any task, and hobby work can be dangerous in the short term (knives, spray paint) and in the long term (spray paint, dust, ergonomics, fumes).

    Proper lighting is also important, both for your poor eyes, and also to make the tasks safer.

    1. Cheers. I think I should have made more of decent lighting. Funnily enough, most of the things that make you safer or healthier also link into stuff that makes your hobby output better.

  3. Yep. This stuff definitely matters. I particularly like that you got good coverage on the difference between risk and hazard, and on the importance of keeping the hazard in mind and taking precautions even when the risk is low.

    Posture-wise, something that's helped me in my current apartment is that the kitchen island is rather higher than most desks or dinner tables are. Makes it much easier to avoid hunching than some of the other work spaces I've had. I also use a hardwood chair with no cushion, because it starts getting uncomfortable at around the point where I should really be getting up and stretching a bit. Setting a timer or something may also help for those who tend to lose track of the time.

    If you are vacuuming up fine dust, rather than wiping it up with a damp cloth, be sure your vacuum has a filter good enough to catch it. You don't want all that just spewing right back out the outlet vent.

    Oh, and don't use ClF3 to strip Minis. Just...don't.

    1. Yeah, that is a thing. I'm quite tall, so desks often come up a bit short for me so I stuck my desk at home on risers to bring it up about 2". Makes a massive difference.

      Er you've been using ClF3 to strip minis? How are you still alive? What did you even put it in?

      Note for other readers, don't strip mins with Sarin gas, weaponised ebola or sub-critical uranium.

    2. As evidenced by the fact that I'm still alive, I don't, in fact, do that. It was just the absolute stupidest thing I could think of that could potentially be related to the hobby ;)


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