Have you ever actually taken the time to read the safety warnings in the manuals that come with the products you buy? I think my favourite was our household steam iron that came with the instruction “do not put any part of your body into the electrical outlet on the wall". Ok, check. Try not to electrocute self today.
So I have set out a few thoughts the way a normal person would write them, but… what can I say… I can't help myself…
At number 9 below I have written a few the way the guy who wrote the steam iron safety warnings would have wanted me to write them all. If you are an experienced collector who knows all this stuff, you may still want to at least read the checklist at number 9 to make sure you're on top of things.
Please Note: McDougall Minerals is not providing a comprehensive list of all risks or issues that could arise in connection with mineral collecting. McDougall Minerals does not independently test mineral specimens in respect of any saftey attrbutes or concerns. It is the responsibility of each collector to inform himself/herself and take all appropriate safety precautions.
Mineral collecting activities usually require care, common sense and some basic safety precautions, particularly when it comes to eye safety. Yes you could find examples on this website where I have not personally done all of these things for myself. But please, kindly ignore any bad example I may have ever set and be sure to do these things for yourself!
Just please make sure you have all the right information before you play with rocks.
1. Minerals can be comprised of poisonous substances.
Minerals are compounds which often include elements and combinations of elements that are really not good for human ingestion. Examples include lead, mercury, arsenic, uranium… thallium… the list is very long of course. I don't personally know anyone who has ever become ill or been affected by this risk (so maybe common sense and reasonable care prevail just fine) but it's a good idea to become knowledgeable about this. At very least, keep mineral specimens away from your mouth and wash your hands after you've handled any. If you are field collecting at a locality where there is any mineral material or dust in the air, a proper breathing filter/mask is important.
2. Handle minerals carefully.
Mineral specimens can cause surprisingly painful injuries. They can include incredibly sharp edges. For example, broken quartz can be razor sharp and dangerous – even calcite cleavages can cut you pretty badly (Yes, I've done both and can confirm this – stitches can be required.) Other minerals form in sharp, brittle, needle-like crystals – they can be like fine cactus needles or splinters, except that they are brittle and will likely break off inside your hand if you try to pull them out with tweezers. (Yes, I've done this too. Best not to.) When field collecting, gloves are a must if you want intact hands at the end of the collecting day. And when you have your gloves off, control your enthusiasm as best you can – go slowly and carefully.
3. Minerals can react with volatility.
Certain minerals can react with volatility if exposed to sudden significant changes in temperature or if exposed to certain liquids. For example, the heat from cleaning under hot water can cause certain crystals to shatter or even fly apart (some smoky quartz specimens from Mont St. Hilaire have been known to do this).
Heat from spotlights can cause certain crystals to shatter. Some minerals also react very strongly to certain liquid solutions, particularly acidic ones. It is always a good idea to research about a mineral before you subject it to any preparation or treatment.
4. Some minerals naturally emit radiation.
Although most mineral species are not radioactive, some are, and it is important that you become knowledgeable enough to know which ones are radioactive and which ones are not. A radioactive mineral specimen may emit radiation and it may emit radon gas. A few minerals can be strongly radioactive (including, but not limited to, minerals containing uranium (U) or thorium (Th)). Other mineral specimens that are radioactive may be only very weakly so. A specimen which does not feature a radioactive mineral prominently could nonetheless contain a radioactive mineral. McDougall Minerals does not independently test specimens for natural radioactivity and makes no representation or warranty in repsect of radioactivity. If you decide that you will include any radioactive minerals or specimens in your collection it is imperative that you research and learn about safe storage before acquiring any. Collecting radioactive minerals requires expertise, and even experts admit that there are things they do not know when it comes to radioactivity and minerals.
(As a related practical matter – not related to direct health effects, but related to peace of mind – as you might imagine, in this day and age, crossing international borders with radioactive substances, even those that are weakly radioactive and entirely naturally occurring, is not usually a fun thing to do.)
5. Minerals and crystals should not be substituted for professional medical advice.
Many people believe that minerals and crystals are good for health and even healing. We do not advocate reliance upon minerals for healing or medical purposes, in substitution for professional health and medical advice. Please always seek professional advice when it comes to health and medical matters.
6. Cleaning and trimming can involve a large number of risks.
If you are simply using a toothbrush, mild dish detergent and room temperature water (often a good way to start, but depends on the mineral – research first!), cleaning minerals is a gentle pursuit. However, cleaning minerals can involve acids and other potentially corrosive agents, and can also involve mechanical prep equipment, such as hydraulic trimmers, flex-shaft drills, saws, microblasters and other fun toys. All of these things should come with their own safety instructions and require care and knowledge before using. I am raising this simply to highlight the fact that most cleaning processes need some thought – even cleaning tools or agents you can buy at a local hardware store can actually be quite dangerous if not used properly, so please take care. For example, common “muriatic" acid (hydrochloric acid) can be really nasty stuff. Totally and easily manageable with the right information and using appropriate precautions.
As a general rule safety goggles and rubber gloves should be used.
7. Mineral collecting in the field can involve a large number of risks.
Huge topic, and mostly common sense, but I'll highlight a few thoughts.
Most collecting involves exposed rock faces, and therefore falling rock is usually a hazard. A hard hat and Wile E. Coyote's umbrella are not a substitute for being careful and avoiding collecting under dangerous rocks or cliff faces. Have I ever done it? Of course. Have I ever been hit by falling rock? Yes. It hurts, it can kill you, and I am maybe a little wiser now. Many field-collecting localities are inherently dangerous places. They can involve holes in the ground – veins, cavities, caves, old mine shafts – and obviously mine workings, shafts and tunnels may not be safe or stable and may internally contain hidden shafts that are not marked at all. Mining equipment on a site can also be dangerous. For example, hidden shafts including ventilation shafts from old mining operations are a common issue and can be really hard to spot at an overgrown site. Another example – abandoned mining tunnels are hard to resist, but can be very dangerous. Ideally, your first visit to a locality should be with a mineral club or someone who knows the locality well. In any event, mineral localities require extreme care.
In addition, the use of collecting tools requires common sense and caution. Hammers, chisels and other tools – and rocks too – can all send sharp chips flying and it is particularly important to have some level of eye protection.
As a general rule, the following should be used: safety goggles, hard hats, work boots with rigid soles and steel toes, and gloves.
8. Collecting without permission can be physically dangerous.
Never collect without the proper legal permission to do so. As I note elsewhere on the site, McDougall Minerals does not imply that any site is open for collecting, and it is imperative that you obtain permission.
However, collecting without permission is not only a bad idea legally, it can actually be physically dangerous. Often sites where permission is not granted are closed to collecting specifically because of the physical hazards at the site (open shafts, for example).
In addition, people are not always welcoming at sites where permission is not available. I have only been chased by a guy waving a rifle once, but people like him are out there. Just for the record, I was collecting legally at the time, and an adjacent property owner happened to be completely nuts.
9. Household Steam Iron Manufacturer's Version of Safety Instructions.
- Rocks and minerals can be very heavy. It's best not to be under them at the wrong time. An example of the wrong time is when they are in motion.
- Minerals are not good to eat. Don't eat the rocks.
- Minerals aren't ice cream. Don't lick the rocks.
- Minerals can be sharp and pointy. Don't pet the rocks without first considering the consequences.
- Rocks and minerals can become projectiles. Don't put a hole in yourself or your collecting partner. If you are the collecting partner in this scenario, don't collect near any crackpot mindlessly wailing away with heavy tools.
- Mineral cleaning agents can be highly corrosive. Most things you can think of do not actually need to be dissolved.
- Many mineral cleaning tools leave scars. Don’t use them to clean or trim your hands.
- Unless you are an expert, radioactive minerals can be Bad Idea Jeans. (If that reference isn’t familiar, feel free to search that phrase plus the word “transcript” on Google…)
And finally, I feel iron-guy would have wanted me to include:
- Never operate any tools, instruments or appliances without first reading the safety instructions.
- Try not to electrocute yourself today.
- Never stare directly at the sun.