Gary Drostle

Working as a professional mosaic artist: Look after yourself – Nobody else will

Health and safety for mosaic artists. Health and safety is often overlooked amongst artists and craftworkers, but remember it’s your health, and nobody else is going to look after it. As with most things it’s really just common sense – and keeping health and Safety in your mind when starting a new task.

In fact the most important thing you can do is to stay healthy and keep tidy…

Remember many accidents are simply caused by carelessness and an untidy studio.

Always think about risks first – planning is key

There are three main areas where you may become exposed to risk of injury in making mosaics: cutting tesserae; lifting mosaics; using cement.

Cutting Mosaic Tesserae


Cutting tesserae with the hammer, mosaic nippers or a cutting machine will always produce debris.

The hazard: Glass or ceramic splinters could be projected into the eye if incorrect cutting methods are used. Splinters around the work area can cause minor cuts.

Who is affected: Flying splinters can affect you or anyone in the vicinity of your work.

Reducing the risk: Wear goggles and ensure that proper cutting methods are used.

Clean your work area regularly with a dust pan and brush, NEVER brush debris with your hands.

Lifting Mosaics and associated materials

The funny thing is, when I was at school, I thought that getting into art would be a great route to avoid manual labour, and here I am over twenty five years into a professional career in creating artworks and I am lifting very heavy boxes, mixing cement and donning a hard hat…

Boxes of tiles, bags of cement and finished mosaics on panels are all heavy objects which can cause back and other injuries if lifted incorrectly.

The hazard: Back or other injury can be caused by bad manual lifting.

Who is affected:The lifter is chiefly at risk however bad lifting may result in dropping items which could affect others nearby.

Reducing the risk: Always use correct lifting techniques and don’t try to lift anything that you are uncomfortable with. Use trolleys and break bulk items down to more manageable sizes.

Working with cement – treat your materials with respect


Cement is the main hazard in making mosaics to be aware of and falls under the Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations.

Portland cement is the main ingredient of most tile adhesives and grouts and must be treated with care.

The hazard: The danger comes from inhalation of dust when its in its dry state and from skin and eye contact causing caustic burns in its wet state.

Wet cement – The caustic action of any wet cement based product, including all mosaic cements and grouts is the most hazardous area and can cause long term dermatitis and serious burns which take months to heal and can need skin grafting.

Dry cement– Dust exposure can cause long term health problems and chest complaints. This is increased with operations such as scabbling.

Who is affected: The user and anyone in the immediate vicinity.

Reducing the risk: Design out unnecessary use of cement. Work in a way which avoids dust. Open bags with care and mix carefully. Protect your skin using gloves and barrier cream, overalls, boots, avoiding traps ie don’t tuck trousers in boots. Eye protection may be necessary for large operations with mechanical mixers.

Final tips for a safe and happy mosaic making experience…

Keep clean, and keep your workplace clean, use barrier cream and wash your hands.

First aid for cement

Contaminated skin should be washed with cold running water as soon as possible. Pay attention to any wound. Wash eye contamination for at least 10 minutes under a cold running tape and then go to hospital.

(source – HSE 5/99)
You can get more information from the HSE at
HSE infoline 0541 545500
HSE books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6FS



  • Jake says:

    Posted: February 23, 2018

    Do you see any risk from silica dust using a hammer and hardie? Reply

    • Gary Drostle replies:

      Posted: February 23, 2018

      Hi Jake, We have looked into this, though we have not undertaken any scientific measurements of dust levels. Cutting with a hammer and hardie creates a very small amount of localised dust, unlike sawing and grinding. Keeping a dust safe environment under these circumstances is all about housekeeping. We use a double filtered HEPA filter vacuum to regularly clean up after work and prevent dust build up in the workshop. Reply



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    Posted: April 24, 2015


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