Learning Materials (UK)

handout that is given to all volunteers about handling museum objects in Manchester Museum



Before anything is moved…… EXAMINE….PLAN….THINK.

One of the greatest dangers to museum objects is people!

Lack of thought before moving objects is a common cause of damage.
The first consideration should be “Does the object really have to be moved?”

Does the object have to come to you – or can you go to the object?

If the move is necessary, some initial checks should be made:

1. Check that the final location is suitable.

Is the area clean, clear of obstruction and stable?

Is the surface clean and, preferably, cushioned?

2. Check that the route is clear.

Are there any obstructions, dangling wires, objects on the floor, are there doors or stairs?

3. Check that you do not pose a threat to the object.

Remove rings, pens, watches, keys or mobile phones, which might scratch or catch the object.

Be careful with belt buckles.

4. Examine the object.

What type of object is it?

Is the nature of the object likely to require special procedures?

Look for separate components that may be dislodged accidentally during the move.

Can they be removed easily and safely?

Are there any moving parts?

Do they need to be secured?

Are there any loose parts?

Do they require support?

Are there any obvious ‘weak points’ such as cracks or previous repairs?

Also look for potentially vulnerable spots…handles, rims and spouts on pots

…legs, ears, and wings on Natural History  specimens.

…fragile basketwork and beadwork.

…loose pigment or paint.

…damaged or unstable surfaces.

Look for sharp edges, corners and points.

These could cause injury to you as well as damage to other objects.

Is the object heavy, bulky, or otherwise awkward to handle?

Having examined the object, decisions can be made about how to proceed.

Under normal circumstances it is preferable to wear clean cotton gloves.

This not only protects the object but in some situations it may provide you with some protection.

(See note on ‘Hazards’)

In some situations other types of glove, or no gloves at all, may more be appropriate.

For example small/delicate objects.

(If there is any doubt, please consult the Conservation department.)

NB Potential latex allergy

 It is always preferable to wash the hands before handling objects, even if gloves are to be worn.

Clean hands are essential if gloves are not used.


If an object is to be moved more than a few feet, it is usually preferable to carry it in a box or

on a tray.

A few points should be noted…

…the object should be placed on its most stable surface.

…it will usually be necessary to provide additional packing or support to prevent movement.

…no part of the object should project beyond the sides of the container.

Several objects may be moved in the same tray or box, providing that certain precautions are taken…

…resilient packing material must be used to separate and support the objects.

…mixed loads of light and heavy, or sturdy and fragile objects should be avoided.

…the box or tray must not be overloaded or in any way unstable.

Heavy or awkward loads, or moves involving several boxes, trays, or objects may require the use of a trolley. Note…

…no part of the load should project outside the ‘footprint’ of the trolley.

…if the ground is very uneven, there must be sufficient resilient packing around the objects, and, if

possible, under the trays or boxes.

A heavy or awkward load will require more than one person in order to ensure the safety of both the objects and the personnel.


If two or more people are involved, co-ordination is essential.


If anything other than a small, light, load is to be carried on a route that involves having to open doors,

it is preferable to have the assistance of someone to perform the task.


Pick up an object by the most solid part.         (NOT the handle of a pot, or the legs of a stuffed animal.)


Only pick up one object at a time.


Pick up the object slowly.


Always use both hands.


Do not drag heavy objects.


When moving objects always support the base.


Provide support for any other part that is heavy.


Keep the object, tray, or box level and stable.


Never rush!        If in doubt…STOP!



Some museum objects present potential hazards to people who handle them.


Heavy, large, or awkward objects can be difficult to move and result in injury.


Get help.


Obvious hazards are sharp edges on weapons and tools. Nails, screws, and other fixings may also pose a similar danger. Although they were originally probably quite safe, the affects of time and handling can cause deterioration and lead to sharp areas.

Natural Science objects can pose similar dangers. Claws, teeth and beaks are obvious hazards, as are sharp edges on shells, rocks and minerals. Support wires in taxidermy specimens can also have sharp ends. Although these are usually internal, they can become exposed.

Injuries from such a source can, theoretically, become infected and have serious consequences.

However, there are two more likely outcomes. An injury will probably cause a reaction of surprise,

and, under such circumstances, it is possible for objects to be knocked over or dropped. It is also possible for the injured person to get blood on the object.


Close inspection of objects before handling, and the use of gloves will help to reduce the risk of these injuries.


Poisoning is another hazard, although it is probably more of a theoretical danger than an actual one.

Arsenic and mercury compounds were used as preservatives on natural history specimens for a long time. In more recent times DDT and other insecticides have been used on zoological and ethnographic materials.

Many minerals are toxic, they may be found as specimens in their own right, or as pigments on painted objects. Lead objects may have powdery deposits of toxic decomposition compounds.

Many plant materials are toxic to some degree.

Arrows or spears may have been treated with a poison such as curare.

Freeze-dried venomous snakes may still carry active toxin.

Some surface treatments used in the past to conserve metals are now known to be toxic or carcinogenic.

The routine washing of hands after handling objects, keeping objects and fingers away from the mouth, and keeping food or drink away from museum collections will all reduce these risks.

Another potential hazard is that of reactions to materials in museum collections. Allergic or sensitive responses to plant or animal materials, or to dust, are all theoretical possibilities.

Objects which may have been badly stored and show signs of mould or insect activity should be treated with care.


Minimising the disturbance of these objects is probably the best way to reduce risks.


If you do have an accident, and an object is damaged – DO NOT PANIC!

If the object has fallen to the floor and broken – Carefully move away from the pieces, keep the area clear, and contact a conservator.


DO NOT sweep up the broken fragments!



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