From jewelry, hearing aids, and prosthetics to coffee cups and military equipment, the catalogue of products that three-dimensional (3D) printers can make continues to expand. And now, desktop versions of 3D printers are making it possible to turn our homes, offices, and classrooms into small-scale manufacturing facilities, giving us the ability to create an endless variety of products with just a computer, 3D printer, and plastic fibre building material. However, according to a recent Finnish study, a significant amount of ultrafine and nanoparticles are emitted into the air by these printers while they are used. As desktop 3D printers become more commonplace, it’s important to recognize the risks of exposure to these particles and learn about the controls that can be put in place to help safely reduce and prevent exposure.
How 3D printers work
3D printers quickly reproduce computer images as solid three dimensional design models. The most common type of desktop 3D printer technology works by layering thin strands, or filaments, made of plastic or natural materials, such as corn. Following a computer-generated image, the 3D printer forces these filaments through a heated nozzle that melts the material into thin layers which then harden to create a solid replica of the image.
Ultrafine particles (UFP)
Commercially available desktop 3D printers can emit substantial amounts of ultrafine particles (UFPs) in indoor air. UFPs are tiny particles less than 100 nanometers in diameter. A human hair is approximately 60,000 nanometers wide.
While laser printers and photocopiers that use thermoplastic toner powder also emit UFPs and various chemicals, 3D printing technologies do so on a much larger scale.
Emissions tests conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) showed that desktop 3D printers released high numbers of particles. The emission levels peaked a few minutes after printing began and did not return to zero until about 100 minutes after printing ended.
The emissions also varied by the material used. Filaments made from natural materials like corn emitted smaller particles than plastic filaments and calculations showed that the risk of particles lodging in the lungs was three times higher for the small particles made from natural substances compared with the larger plastic particles.
Exposure to small particles has important health implications. UFPs can penetrate the lungs and lead to inflammation, headaches, and negative cardiovascular effects. Inhaled UFPs are deposited throughout the respiratory tract and may pass through different protective barriers into the bloodstream, harming other organ systems.
Since most desktop 3D printers are not equipped with exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, it is important to identify the physical and chemical properties of their emissions to better understand exposure potential and risk when using this technology in non-industrial settings.
While using the manufacturer-supplied cover for the 3D printer can decrease the number of particles, additional controls and precautions should still be taken. NIOSH outlines five specific steps to reduce emissions:
- Always use the manufacturer’s supplied controls (full enclosure can be more effective at controlling emissions than a cover).
- Use the printer in a well-ventilated place, and directly ventilate the printer.
- Maintain a distance from the printer to minimize breathing in emitted particles, and choose a low-emitting printer and filament when possible. Avoid staying in the same room with a printer for long periods of time.
- Turn off the printer if the printer nozzle jams, and allow it to ventilate before removing the cover.
- Use engineering measures first, such as manufacturer-supplied equipment and proper ventilation, then use materials with lower emissions. Finally, wear protective equipment such as respirators if necessary.
Desktop 3D printers have given people the ability to design and create almost anything in their homes, schools, and offices. However, the process of heating plastics to print 3D objects emits high levels of ultrafine particles with potentially harmful health effects. Carrying out the necessary steps to reduce and control these emissions will enable people in non-industrial settings to safely take advantage of this cutting-edge, transformative technology.
- Good ventilation should be ensured when using tabletop 3D printers, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Aalto University and Helsinki University
- Control Measures Critical for 3D Printers, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Emission of particulate matter from a desktop three-dimensional (3D) printer, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, May 21, 2016
- How Do Particulates Enter the Respiratory System? Fact Sheet, CCOHS
Tips & Tools
If you live in an older neighbourhood, the chances that you have heard the sounds of new shingles being installed are pretty high. Every month there are new reports of serious accidents due to working on roofs. In Canada, over 42,000 workers get injured annually due to fall accidents, many of them from rooftops. When working at heights, slips, trips and falls can result in serious accidents and even death. Many of the materials and tools used in roofing such as ladders, scaffolding and fall protection equipment must be properly maintained and set up to perform safely.
Employers are required to provide a safe work environment. This obligation includes having safe work procedures in place, informing workers of any and all hazards of the job, and training workers to ensure they can perform their work safely. There are also steps you can take to keep safe when working on a roof.
Consider the Weather
If thunder storms are in the area, put off your roof work until another day. Avoid roofing if it is windy and never work on a wet or snow covered roof.
Dress appropriately for the environment. Cold can reduce sensitivity and the mobility of your limbs. Heat can make you dizzy, which can affect your balance, and reduce your ability to work safely.
Working in an uncomfortable position for an extended period is never a good thing and can result in reduced blood flow, numbness of limbs and a loss of balance.
Take the time necessary to fully concentrate on your task:
- Quickly assembled scaffolding and unsecured ladders can cause falls.
- Check the stability of the roof before going onto it.
- Keep your work area as clean of dirt, tools, and debris as possible.
Keep Your Balance
Using a visual point of reference can help you maintain your balance. When working at heights, your brain may use moving clouds above or traffic below as a reference, which can trick your body into feeling like it’s moving. This sensation can cause a dangerous loss of balance.
Keep your eyes on the area you’re working on to help prevent miss stepping or tripping, and don’t lose sight of the edge of the roof.
Personal Protective Equipment
Wear appropriate footwear—soft-soled boots provide the best roof traction. Wear safety glasses as well as a helmet to protect your head and prevent more serious injury if you fall.
Before using a ladder, make sure it is well secured. The distance between the wall and the ladder should be equal to ¼ of the ladder’s height, and its side rails extended to at least 1 metre above the landing point.
Always check that scaffolding is solid, stable and has all of its components (cross braces and guardrails) before using it.
Don’t make the mistake of not using fall protection just because you may not be afraid of heights. Correctly used fall protection is an essential part of any fall protection program.
If you are at risk for falling three meters (ten feet) or more when working, you should use a fall protection system. There are various fall protection methods and devices to protect workers who are at risk of falling. Each has its appropriate uses. Depending on the situation, use one or more of these fall protection methods:
- Guardrails should be installed at the edges of construction sites, roofs, and scaffoldings whenever possible to prevent falls. Standards for guardrail dimensions may vary from province to province.
- Fall restraint systems such as work positioning devices that prevent workers from travelling to the edge of the building or structure must be provided if the use of guardrails isn't practicable.
- Fall arrest systems (full body harnesses and safety nets) are used to stop workers in mid-fall to prevent them from hitting the surface below. Full body safety harnesses attached to secured lanyards are widely used. However, to be effective they must be fitted properly to each worker. Although a poorly fitting harness will stop a fall, it can injure the worker who is dangling in mid-air if the straps and metal supports are not contoured to the individual's shape.
The lanyard, or line that stops the fall, and the anchor point for the lanyard are just as important as the harness. Anchor points must be carefully planned, usually in consultation with an engineer, and the length of the lanyard must allow for the stretch in the material resulting from the fall. Manufacturers can provide information to help you choose the correct length and avoid contact with the ground or other objects.
Roofing safety is the responsibility of employers and workers. Learn what you need to do and take the time to keep it safe - up on the roof.
Roofing Safety Guidelines, PDF, WorkSafeNB
Best practice guidelines for working on roofs, PDF, New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
Body Belts, Harnesses, and Lanyards fact sheet, CCOHS
Working at Heights e-course, CCOHS
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s Health and Safety To Go! features the new podcast episode Zika Virus Awareness for Canadian Workers and an encore of the podcast Emergency Eye Wash Stations and Showers.
Feature Podcast: Zika Virus Awareness for Canadian Workers
Since its recent outbreak in Brazil, the mosquito-borne Zika virus has received a lot of media attention highlighting the risk of birth defects in children born to infected mothers. It’s important to note that the type of mosquito that can carry the Zika virus is not found in Canada and is not well-suited to our climate. However, Zika awareness is important for Canadian workers travelling in areas where Zika is present or if they could come into contact with someone who may have been exposed to Zika.
This podcast discusses how the Zika virus can affect Canadians and what precautionary measures workers and employers can take.
The podcast runs 4:52 minutes.
Encore Podcast: Emergency Eye Wash Stations and Showers
Anyone who works with hazardous chemicals knows they can work safely and avoid injury if they follow the appropriate safety precautions. However, accidents can happen, and if and when a corrosive chemical gets into your eyes or on your face or body, the first 10 to 15 seconds are the most critical for preventing injury. If the treatment is delayed, even for a few seconds, serious injury may be caused. That's where emergency showers and eyewash stations come in, providing workers with on-the-spot decontamination and the ability to flush hazardous substances away. This podcast discusses the importance of emergency showers and eyewash stations, and proper procedures in using them.
The podcast runs 3:33 minutes.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
What are the top barriers and issues affecting the health and safety of workplaces in Canada, and what can we do about them? Seize your opportunity to be heard by taking part in an online survey that continues the conversation sparked at Forum 2016 held earlier this year in Vancouver.
CCOHS’ Forum 2016 brought together subject experts, workers, employers and governments from across the country and beyond, to learn about and discuss current and emerging health and safety issues. Delegates explored the challenges arising from shifting demographics, climate change, mental health, workplace culture, emotional intelligence, and more.
Through workshop sessions delegates also weighed in on the barriers, issues, ideas, and good practices taking place in workplaces. They highlighted their own experiences, identifying concerns and outlining possible solutions and strategies. CCOHS invites Canadians to help continue that dialogue. Take part in our survey and add your voice and perspective.
To take the survey, visit http://www.ccohs.ca/events/forum16/#outcomes.
The full results of this survey will be available next year.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2016, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Length: 4:52 minutes
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