Unsafe Workplace: Dangers of 3D Printing
3D printing is a relatively new process with a lot of exciting potential applications. It’s already being used for a wide variety of purposes, including producing medical devices, prosthetics, and creating parts for cars and aerospace vehicles, just to name a few. But with any new manufacturing process, it takes time to understand fully understand the risks associated with it. Multiple studies have been done looking into the potential health risks of working with 3D printers. So far, many of the findings have largely found that emissions generated during the 3D printing process can pose a serious health risk to workers.
Regardless of what 3D printing is being used to create, 3D printers function by melting filaments of plastic. During that process, dangerous particles and compounds are released into the air, including ultrafine particles (UFPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Even when printing has been completed, these hazardous vapors can still be found in areas surrounding printers.
When these emissions are inhaled, they they can increase the risk of a wide range of health problems. Exposure to UFPs can cause headaches and increase the likelihood of developing asthma, other respiratory issues, and cardiovascular problems. VOCs are considered a toxic pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency and VOCs like benzene, methylene chloride, and styrene have been linked to cancer. Some research has found that some types of printer filaments can release more hazardous particles than others.
In one study by the Centre for Research Expertise in Occupational Disease (CREOD) in Toronto, they looked into the health issues and complications people experienced while working full-time with 3D printers. 57% of participants had respiratory symptoms more than once a week over the past year, 22% had physician-diagnosed asthma, 20% experienced headaches, and 20% had cracked skin on their hands. In addition to these problems, 17% reported having other types of injuries like cuts and scrapes.
Despite these sorts of health problems, CREOD’s study found that the use of personal protective equipment was quite low with just 48% of people saying they used it. Of those who reported using personal protective equipment, 37% said they used skin protection and 35% used respirators or masks.
To keep workers safe, employers whose staff uses 3D printers should be given adequate protective equipment, like gloves to protect the skin on their hands and masks/respirators to prevent people from inhaling dangerous particles. Good ventilation is also very important for reducing exposure to dangerous particles. Ideally, the 3D printer should have a built-in ventilation system.
If you work with 3D printers as part of your job and have developed health problems because of it, don’t hesitate to contact an unsafe workplace lawyer. Not all workplace injuries happen suddenly, they can develop gradually over time. By talking to a lawyer, you’ll be able to get answers to any questions you have about worker’s compensation benefits or if there are any other legal options you have.