Mark Venables examines the issues facing managers as they balance the needs of people and productivity associated with laser and 3D printing processes, particularly in meeting their health and safety obligations in the light of recent nanoparticle research.

While laser technology is in a very different place to 3D printing, in terms of evolution, they do share some common ground over the risks posed to human health through the emission of potentially hazardous airborne contaminants linked to each process.

In the case of lasers, advances in dust and fume extraction systems over the last 20 years from companies such as BOFA International have helped protect workers from harmful admissions, while simultaneously improving productivity by keeping laser systems clear of material deposits. From CO2 laser systems, which can still be found in high-speed packaging lines, through to high-powered solid state YAG lasers and new generation optical fibre technology’s, today’s advanced extraction systems are proven to remove contaminants often invisible to the human eye.

John Horsey, technical manager at BOFA, says that one of the biggest challenges for plant managers operating laser systems is understanding how the substrates react not so much in metals and glass where fume is mainly particulate, but in organic materials, which produce much more complex emissions and can present significant risk to operator health. “Potential health problems are usually associated with plastics, which give off Volatile Organic Compounds when lasered, most of which have associated occupational exposure limits under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulation,” he points out. “PVC is worth a special mention in this context since it releases acidic hydrogen chloride and small amounts of phosgene, both of which are extremely toxic.”

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