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The unique worker safety concerns of 3D printing

One type of new technology that has been showing up in a wide range of manufacturing workplaces in recent years are 3D printers. Along with their great productive potential, these printers also come with their own unique set of safety concerns. When using any workplace technology, whether it be long-established or cutting edge, it is important for employers to properly address the safety issues it presents to avoid exposing their workers to unnecessary risk.

One of the main safety risks that can arise in relation to 3D printers is that the heating of filaments, powders and polymers in the printing process can generate emissions. Some such emissions have the potential to be hazardous to worker health if inhaled. Also, certain metal powders that can be used in the printing process could generate combustible dust.

There is currently a great deal of variation in 3D printing technology. Printers can differ significantly from one another in size, design and the printing methods they use. Also, there are a range of powders, polymers and filaments that can be used in the printing process. So, what kinds of emissions risks can arise in connection to 3D printing greatly depends on what equipment and materials are used. Given this, when using 3D printing for manufacturing operations, it is important for employers to give thought to safety when deciding what types of printers and powders/polymers/filaments to turn to.

There are a range of steps employers could take to try to address the safety issues related to 3D printing. A couple of examples include:

  • Putting ventilation systems in place for areas where printers are used
  • Setting safety rules on the use of printers and who can be in printing areas

What exact safety measures would be the best fit depends on the printers and printing processes used in a workplace. So, it is important for companies that use 3D printing technologies to tailor their safety efforts to their specific circumstances.

Now, there remains a lot that is unknown about the workplace safety effects of 3D printing. One wonders what future research will find on this topic and what impacts this will have on what companies do safety-wise when using this technology.

What do you think the future will hold for 3D printing workplace safety issues?

When new technologies in the workplace lead to health harms, workers’ comp benefits can be a critical source of relief for workers.