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What to consider when working with laser smoke

Safety at the workplace is a main issue, to which many people often do not pay enough attention. Working with lasers arises hazardous gases, vapors and fumes. Employers are hold liable by law to protect their employees from these potential threats.

Lasers are usable in different ways, which make them suitable for processing organic as well as inorganic materials. The focused laser’s energy application enables precise working on materials such as stainless steel. Particles in nanoscale loosen from the working surface. These fine dusts and aerosols are hazardous because of their chemical composition. Even the allegedly nontoxic suspended matters are health hazards.

Especially working with chromium nickel steels can set free chromium IV particles, which are demonstrably carcinogenic. Epidemiological studies validate that these substances will cause cancer, when people are exposed to them during work. Researches have shown that these people have a higher risk of getting cancer compared to those who are not exposed to hazardous substances permanently.

Clean air is important for the employees’ health safety. Although every one breathes without actively thinking about it and air looks mostly clean, it does not necessarily mean that it actually is. According to the German Federal Environment Agency, dangerous substances in the air of larger cities can shorten the life expectation of people living there by ten months. Environmental epidemiologists of the Harvard University prove that fine dusts increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes and worsens the memory.

The German Occupational Safety and Health Act defines that vapors and gases in the air must not exceed the defined limit values according to the technical regulations of dangerous substances. The committee for hazardous substances of the BAuA (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin = Federal Office for Occupational Safety and Healthcare) sets those values. The Employers Liability Insurance Association controls them regularly. One guideline, the TRGS 528, is about welding fume and similar processes, which include laser processing as well.

The limit values depend on the harmfulness and danger of the substances. These are defined according to scientific knowledge. Gaseous and particulate dangerous substances in welding fumes have a diameter of 0.01 – ten µm and are therefore mostly respirable. Inhaled chromium expositions are small enough to enter the alveoli unimpeded and determine there. Only five percent come from the main substance, while the additional substance defines 95 percent. Fuel and inert gas with a high percentage of hydrogen can form dangerous gas mixtures when leaking. Even barely flammable material can burn when combining with oxygen.

The breathing air during work with lasers has to be free of harmful particles. Ideally, chromium particles does not get into the breathing air at all. Effective protection ensures working in closed rooms with an integrated extraction. A direct capture of the dangerous substances at the point of origin does not even allow them to reach inhalable height of the employees. A filter and extraction system ensures that. Without it, particles even in small quantities would spread rapidly, especially within closed and narrow rooms.

Filter and extraction systems by TBH protect people against harmful effects caused by laser fume. As the TRGS 528 claims, all systems are “approved against hazardous substances according to welding fume efficiency class W3”. The systems passed all tests in accordance with DIN EN ISO 15012 and DGUV (German Institute for Occupational Safety) and have the corresponding seal and W3 label. All TBH systems are on the IFA positive list. They guarantee triple protection for people, environment and machinery.

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