Laser cutting has rapidly grown in popularity and usage since it was first developed in the mid-1960s. The process involves the use of laser beams to achieve precise and well-defined cuts that can fit specific dimensions. A computer guides the user during the process and precision cuts are made in many different materials. Industrial processes use laser cutting to shape diamonds, wood, metal and glass.
While laser cutting is safer and more efficient than many other industrial cutting methods, there are several safety precautions that users need to take to ensure that they're well protected when working with laser beams. These safety precautions are even more important for small businesses that may subject workers to laser beams on a regular basis.
What do you need to look out for?
For laser cutters to be effective, the beam used must be powerful and precise. Among the top choices for lasers are CO2 lasers and fiber lasers. The effectiveness of laser cutters ensures smooth and polished edges with minimal material wastage.
However, operators of laser cutters need to take steps to protect their skin, eyes and the surrounding air. The powerful nature of laser beams often results in the production of dust and fumes that can potentially be harmful when inhaled. In addition, more powerful lasers can emit chemical vapors, smoke, and aerosols.
Materials likely to emit harmful particles
It's important to know which materials are more likely to emit harmful particles so as to put in place the right safety procedures when working with lasers.
Kevlar, rubber and polycarbonate have been shown to emit dust particles that can be harmful when inhaled. In addition, stainless steel can release nickel and chromium fumes (heavy metal fumes) and steel can release carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and iron oxide.
Safety equipment used to prevent potential health hazards
To protect against the potentially harmful products of laser cutting, safety equipment that can be used in both industrial and small-scale applications. Buildings that carry out laser cutting should have specially designed ventilation systems that can channel fumes and air particles away from the work site. Air filters can also be used to trap heavy air particles and prevent them from being inhaled.
Laser cutting machines also come equipped with blowers, vacuum systems and fans that can blow away fumes and dust from the work site. In addition, workers will typically wear protective equipment that covers their eyes and nose when working with lasers. As long as the air is kept clean and contaminant particles are filtered from the environment, the work area will remain safe during laser cutting.