Published on February 26, 2013 | by Adam Leyland0
Desert humidity levels put staff and students at risk
Health and safety failures in workshops at Central Saint Martins (CSM) have put over a dozen lives at risk staff and students have told Arts London News (ALN).
Low humidity levels that are “like the Sahara desert” and circulating dust have been reported by students in several workshops in the Eastern Transit Shed at CSM, according to a staff member who wished to remain anonymous.
The conditions have caused at least 14 students to fall ill or faint, often next to potentially dangerous working machinery, the staff member reported.
Last term, an unnamed female student nearly fell into a lathe – a device for turning wood or metal with a large blade – after fainting in one of the workshops.
Many believe this was due to low humidity and high levels of dust in the atmosphere.
ALN was told by the staff member that if the student had fallen onto the machine, “she would have been torn to pieces.”
In a number of the workshops it is not possible to control the humidity until new equipment is installed.
Students using these areas have complained of symptoms including headaches, dizziness, spots, eczema and bloodshot eyes.
“We have been unable to maintain satisfactory environmental conditions within the workshops.” Simon Francis, senior facilities manager
Staff members regularly check the humidity levels and have reported that some of the workshops have seen humidity as low as 12 per cent, adding that 50 per cent is a comfortable level.
Humidity levels in the Sahara desert are 25 per cent, meaning that the conditions in some of the workshops are closer to that of the African desert than of a normal room.
According to the UAL staff member the college authorities were made aware of the problem 18 months ago.
He also complained of “a lack of transparency about what has been done and what is going to be done.”
Student representatives have brought up the issue at every forum meeting since the problem began after the move to the King’s Cross site in 2011, academic representation co-ordinator Josh Jones told ALN.
A student representative, staff members and CSM’s health and safety officer all attended a meeting on the subject in February, with an aim to arrange for the installation of the new equipment.
The student at the meeting, BA Architecture student Thomas Ramaud, 26, said humidity temperatures are supposed to be at 50 per cent in every room of the college.
“People were going nuts at the meeting,” he said. “This is a big issue, especially for the technicians. It is in their contract that they have to stay in the workshops, so they end up being more affected.”
He went on to add: “A lot of students have also been spending as little time in some of the workshops as possible to avoid the hazard.”
Lack of equipment
UAL’s Estates Department had said action is being taken and that humidifiers would be installed in the workshops by Easter 2012.
However, they still have not received all of the correct equipment; several small humidifiers and a cooling system have been installed in some of the workshops, but the cooling system only begins to work when the room reaches 23 degrees.
We are also working to procure and undertake the works as quickly as possible, while causing as little disruption to students and staff as we possibly can.” Simon Francis
Another meeting with students and staff from the fashion and textiles department that focused on the issue – the results of which were published online – took place on February 7.
Students complained that the studios were still either too hot or too cold, affecting the health and morale of students.
Anne Smith, the dean of fashion and textiles at CSM, confirmed at the meeting that they are getting weekly updates from the Estates Department, who, according to the official minutes, “are also doing daily inspections and bringing in extra fans and/or heaters when necessary.”
Senior facilities manager Simon Francis confirmed the plans: “It has been identified that, due to a series of issues with the design of the Eastern Transit Shed at Kings Cross, we have been unable to maintain satisfactory environmental conditions within the workshops.”
He confirmed that this had led to increased temperatures and low humidity within the workshops: “As such, the Estates project team engaged a team of specialists to undertake a full investigation, reporting back to the university on the cause of the problems and likely design solutions.
“Work has progressed on designing, procuring and planning major works which will take place over the Easter break.”
He added: “The solution identified involves the installation of improved cooking facilities and the installation of a mechanical humidification plant. We are also working to procure and undertake the works as quickly as possible, while causing as little disruption to students and staff as we possibly can.”