Every machining process or machine has its safety features or measures that you should definitely pay attention to. Although a laser cutting machine is one of the safest ways to cut products, the biggest danger is mainly inattention and forgetfulness when it comes to safety measures.
Thus, it is important to always be attentive and aware of the machine and its surroundings. The safety information in this article is intended as a general guide and is no substitute for a full safety program based on each individual laser cutting application! A professional risk assessment and investigation of legal safety requirements is recommended.
Table of Contents
Although this article is about laser cutting in industrial applications, it obviously overlaps to a large extent with traditional metalworking environments. Thus, in all of these applications, it is important to follow the general regulations about clothing.
- Leather gloves to protect hands when we handle work pieces
- Safety shoes with steel tips
- Safety goggles to protect the eyes.
In addition, the fabrics used in the clothing are very important. Wool and cotton clothes offer better protection against heat than, for example, synthetic materials such as nylon or polyester. Synthetic materials burn easily and produce hot ashes that stick to the skin. This can lead to severe burns.
In first degree burns, only the upper skin surface is affected. Blisters or lacerations may possibly occur. It is appropriate to lower the temperature as soon as possible with cold water (not ice). A sterile dressing prevents infection.
A third-degree burn damages the skin deep enough to touch underlying layers. Hair and blood vessels are destroyed. You may not even feel pain for quite some time.
So damage control is the message, and that starts with appropriate clothing for the operator, a trained staff who know what to do if there is a problem, and rapid transfer to the nearest hospitals if necessary.
Eyes and skin
Laser light causes optical radiation. This is not necessarily harmful, but long-term exposure creates risks to the eyes and skin. Strong infrared and UV radiation can impact the retina and cornea and cause serious eye damage.
Inflammation of the cornea can occur. This can cause a painful, burning sensation. This is sometimes called “laser eye” or “snow blindness.” Visible lasers or infrared laser radiation can even irreparably damage the human eye leading to blindness.
In addition, laser light through infrared radiation can heat up the body too much and burn the skin just like when you light in the sun for too long. The long-term consequences are skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer.
Much, of course, depends on the power and settings of your laser beam. However, we give an indication of the possible dangers here. There are different laser classes according to the power of the laser beam.
So limited exposure and the right protection for eyes and skin are important and, as with welding, it should be common knowledge that you never look directly at a laser cutting machine in action without protective safety glasses. You cannot work safely without glasses.
The laser cutting machine
Each machine is designed according to the safety standards that apply. There are a lot of standards and rules that are followed by the manufacturer. Which ones they are depends on the type and size of course.
The correct use of the laser cutting machine with all its built-in safety features is therefore very important, even if this sometimes makes work a little more difficult. Sometimes the edges are cut because it is a low risk. However, this assessment is often not based on sufficient knowledge of the operation/dangers. Safety mats, doors, locks and labels must be in optimal condition and may not be bypassed for ease of use. In this way, dangerous situations are avoided.
Lasers burn, melt or vaporize their material, with or without the addition of a reactive gas. Not all materials are therefore safe to laser. Therefore, the potential risks of working with some materials should always be considered. You do not want to cause a fire because you are trying to laser materials that are not suitable for it.
The right type of fire extinguishers should be present in easily accessible and highly visible places. These should be inspected regularly.
Water sprinklers destroy electrical material and it is no different with lasers. So think carefully about the various options when it comes to fire safety. A small accident can otherwise become a very expensive affair.
Flammable components such as oils and alcohol should be stored in special safety cabinets. Gas cylinders should be chained so that they are not accidentally knocked over. Oxygen or other reactive gases should be separated from each other by a fireproof wall.
If a noise source is very intense, or persists for a long time, hearing damage can result. Earplugs or ear protection measures are therefore recommended when noise sources average above 85 decibels for an entire shift or when peaks exceed 140 decibels.
Industrial lasers, unlike some other metalworking applications, are very quiet machines that stay below 85 decibels. But they often have cooling systems and air filters associated with them that can be quite noisy.
So it is important to have an awareness of the hazards so that exposure to too much noise is limited.
Vapors and dust
The laser cutting process releases fumes and dust. Over several days, weeks, months or years, this can become hazardous to the health of the operator (and anyone else working in that same space). Iron, aluminum and other metals and their alloy components contain fumes and dusts and it is critical that they are immediately captured in air filters integrated into the machine.
These filters and the material they collect must then be carefully handled according to local safety, health and environmental regulations.
Nonmetallic fumes and dust are often equally toxic. They contain oils and other organic materials. Sometimes they are treated against corrosion and scratching. Toxic by-products include chloride or cyanide. Thus, each material must be thoroughly reviewed for its suitability for welding, what potential vapors may be released, and whether the safety system is adequate to deal with them.
Other possible hazards are mainly related to electrocution or poisoning. Make sure the machine is in good working order, have it worked on only by a professional. Test the safety switch regularly. You want it to work when you need it. Establish proper procedures and make sure they are strictly followed. Any products needed for maintenance should be handled according to strict safety standards.
Safety is important and a major concern for many companies. This article will give you an idea of what to look for, but what safety measures are important in your application should be assessed by a trained safety advisor. Also, look beyond the laser alone. Consider operators, bystanders and interaction with other machinery in your workplace. We hope, however, that we have been able to give you a rough idea of what is involved.