The use of lasers and plasma as cutting tools is becoming more widespread as the advantages to both the user and the environment become clear. Laser cutters produce a beam that travels from an energy source, usually electricity or compressed gas, through a focusing system onto a work surface where the material is processed by heat produced during the lasing process. Plasmas are produced by ionizing a gas using electricity or another source of energy. The super-heated plasma is compressed and focused to produce the cutting action. The following section discusses Health Risks from Laser Fumes.
Effects of Laser Fumes and plasma cutting fumes on health
1. Eye irritation
The eye irritation caused by laser and plasma cutting machines is due to the release of fumes carcinogenic chemicals such as Nitric oxide (NO) Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) Carbon monoxide (CO) Carbon dioxide (CO2) Aromatic Hydrocarbons Alkanes & Alkenes Oxygenated Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s).
2. Skin irritation
Perspiration may carry the chemical irritants through the skin and cause them to be absorbed into the body. Although new protective clothing is being developed, some laser technicians still wear only cotton clothing, which offers little resistance against these chemicals. The use of laser-resistant gloves would block this type of absorption. Protective clothing for laser operators should be light-colored and tight-fitting, made from a fabric that does not produce small particles during normal use or as a result of abrasion. The shirt-sleeve cuff should extend at least 6 inches beyond the glove cuff to help prevent skin exposure when operating controls. The shirt sleeve cuff should be buttoned when operating. The use of safety glasses with side shields is recommended for laser operators and others who may be exposed to laser radiation.
3. Nose and throat irritation
The eyes, nose, and respiratory tract are the area’s most often injured by laser plume irritants. The regular use of protective eyewear with side shields is recommended along with rubber face masks or respirators. As an added preventative measure, air should be supplied through a filter to remove any particles before it reaches users’ noses and mouths.
In the past, some employees involved in operating lasers have been exposed to radiation from ultraviolet (UV) light and x rays. These exposures may cause skin cancer or cataracts after a number of years of exposure. A recent study of industrial cutting processes showed that when lasers are used to cut materials, they can release metal particles or fumes which when workers are exposed to these particles, might develop lung cancer.
During the cutting process, metals such as chromium, cadmium, titanium, and manganese can be released from metal alloys used for laser-welding jobs. As a result, workers may develop lung diseases such as pneumonitis or metal fume fever. Chronic exposure to these particles may increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
Tips to reduce the ill-effects of laser cutting fume
- Operators should wear protective clothing made from fabrics that do not produce particles during normal use or as a result of abrasion.
- Manufacturers should consider developing laser-resistant gloves that are flexible, tight-fitting, and light-colored to protect against skin exposure.
- Operators should wear air-supplied respirators with filters that remove particles before the air reaches their noses and mouths.
- Manufacturers should analyze emissions from cutting processes to determine what types of particles are being released into the air where workers are present. Then they can develop effective laser fume extraction system to control particle levels in the workplace.
- Manufacturers should provide training for workers using laser equipment to help them identify the symptoms of exposure to harmful substances, such as metal fume fever.
In conclusion, it’s important to take safety precautions when working with lasers and plasma cutters. The fumes from these machines can have a detrimental effect on your health, so be sure to wear protective gear at all times while operating the machine.