My tablemates at Clayathon this year were all very experienced clayers. At one point, the conversation turned to the fact that they had all cut themselves while working with polymer clay, because, well, everybody does.
Which is when I realized that I never had.
Let me take a little step backward here. By day, I'm a materials microscopist for a chemical company. The chemical industry, in general, tends to have a very strong focus on safety. In microscopy, a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of that focus is on the safe handling of sharps. We have procedures (plural) about sharps: one for razor blades, one for scalpels, one for microtome blades, one for opening boxes, one for general sharps handling... You get the drift.
The blade most commonly used with polymer clay is known as a "tissue blade." This is a very sharp, 4" long, single edged blade that is named thusly because it is designed to cut thin sections (less than 100 nanometers in thickness) of biological samples – otherwise known as "tissue." Guess what human beings are made out of?
> 4" Tissue Blade & Packs of premo! Sculpey® Oven-Bake Clay <
So I started to think about how it is that I have never cut myself while doing clay, while everyone else has. What am I doing differently? As it turns out, it's that having-thought-so-much-about-safe-handling-of-sharps-that-it's-second-nature thing. I realized that I do two things consistently, albeit subconsciously.
The first is that I always put my blades down in the same orientation. To my right hand side (I'm right handed) with the sharp side of the blade toward me. This way, when I grab the blade from the outside, it's never the cutting edge. The other thing that I do, without even thinking about it, is that I look at the blade before I do anything, to make sure that I'm holding it in the orientation that I think I am. Every single time.
Thinking about safety, and predicting the potential worst case scenario, isn't second nature for everybody. I mean, really, how often do you do a preliminary hazard analysis before you do anything? But, in my industry, where the consequences of something going not-as-planned can be dire, I would bet that most of us do it all the time, whether we're aware of it or not. So before you start to work next time, think it through. What could go wrong? And what can you do to mitigate the risk? It doesn't have to be complicated. It can be as simple as incorporating a glance at your blade into your work process. Safety first, right?