Lasers are being used increasingly in the printing industry: applications include laser printers and copiers, scanners, platemakers, engravers (in printing cylinder manufacture), package date marking, die cutting and typesetting.
Laser products are classified, and those used in the printing industry will generally be Class 1 (safe by Engineering Design), during normal use, i.e. – the laser and workpiece will be fully enclosed.
Lasers themselves are classified according to their power. A Class 1 laser product may contain a high-powered Class 4 laser. Tampering with, or removal of shielding or enclosure from a Class 1 product may result in exposure to a high-powered laser! Harmful exposure can result from a reflected laser beam as well as directly viewed beams.
When you acquire laser equipment the supplier has a duty to provide adequate information to you. The information provided by the supplier will help you to identify any systems of work you need to operate to ensure that the equipment is used safely.
Only competent persons (usually a service engineer) should carry out any servicing or other work on laser equipment. Competent persons will need to be properly trained and follow a defined system of work, which includes appropriate eye protection.
A laser is a source of intense light. It can be dangerous whether it is viewed directly or reflected from a smooth surface. The greatest hazard is to the eyes, as the focusing action of the eye can increase the original beam power by a factor of 100 000, and cause serious damage to the retina. Laser beams may not always be visible. Skin burns may also occur and their possibility included in any risk assessment.
Ozone, dust and fumes may be emitted but for equipment such as laser copiers and computer printers, they are not likely to be excessive or a problem if the equipment is both well maintained and sited in a well-ventilated place. Other types of equipment may need local exhaust ventilation: your COSHH risk assessment will help you to decide the need for this, and your supplier should be able to advise.
As with any machinery there will also be potential dangers from the electrical installation and any moving parts, which will need to be formally risk assessed.
Case history - An employee was experiencing a film misfeed on an image setter. He turned off the computer, but forgot about the RIP. He opened the cover to the film and laser and used an over-ride key to run the film through manually, so that he could find the cause of the misfeed. Stored information in the RIP caused the laser to start up unexpectedly, and the employee suffered eye damage from the reflected laser.