Let's not kid ourselves, here. There's no shortage of ways you can kill yourself in a darkroom - and some of the poisons are cumulative, so it's unlikely you'll know you're killing yourself while you're doing it. MSDS's (material safety data sheets) can tell you a lot; but I recently read the obituary of a former chemistry professor of mine who learned the hard way that a lot of what went into the MSDS for dimethyl mercury was based on anecdotal (and regrettably incomplete) evidence, since there was only so much the safety gurus could do experimentally to determine its health hazards to humans. A little bit of common sense goes a long way towards keeping you from becoming a statistic.
Any good darkroom should have Proper ventilation is important – I have always a had air-con unit on the wall but and fan an open window will do, after an hour or so, there will be enough chemical vapours in the confines of your darkroom that you will be able to "taste" the fixer (not very pleasant and I'm sure...not very healthy). If you're using pre-mixed commercial MQ black and white developers (D-76, Dektol, etc.), you may be able to get away with mixing your chemicals outdoors and working for only limited periods in a sealed room in the basement. But the moment you start messing with either pyrogallol, E6 process stabilizers, or Ilfochrome materials, ventilation could save your life.
These chemicals are all toxic if ingested and potentially harmful if they come in contact with your skin (they will not burn your skin) - you should not be dipping your hands into your print trays or in any way touching the solutions - some of these will be absorbed into your skin and may cause skin allergies or health problems later in life - don't risk it!
Having said that, occasionally, for whatever reason, you may have to grab a print with your bare hands while it is still covered in chemical, or you might spill some chemical on your skin. I wouldn't worry to much about accidental contact - just don't make a habit of it.
Use print tongs for your print solutions - you will need 3 or 4 pairs depending on what you are doing.
Upon completion of your processing sessions, always thoroughly rinse your print trays, tongs, beakers, and etcetera, with clean running water. Give your print trays a good firm scrub with your fingers while rinsing. The plastic trays will stain over time - this will not affect future processing sessions as long as residual chemicals are removed from their surface during washing a find that a stem cleaner will get the job done.
When doing processing (the "wet" side of your darkroom) make sure that you rinse your hands (soap is not necessary) and dry them before you move back to the "dry" side of you room and touch that expensive paper. Any chemical residue on your fingers will contaminate your unprocessed print paper, enlarger and easel and can damage equipment or produce ugly stains and / or streaks on your finished prints.
Chemicals can permanently stain your clothes - don't wear something that you care about.
NO FOOD in the darkroom - remember - toxic chemicals are very easy to transfer from your hands or surfaces, to your food.
This is a member submitted article from Jean Barbe