Laser cutting and plasma cutting are both used in industrial working environments where metal materials must be cut or welded. These processes generate fumes, gases, and smoke that can contain a variety of oxides. The size of the particles in these contaminants will impact the overall toxicity level. Fumes with smaller particles create a larger hazard while the gases that develop in these processes which cannot be visually seen also create serious health risks when filtration systems are not sufficient.
Based on how long workers are exposed to the fumes, dust, and gas being produced by laser or plasma cutting, along with how much space is in the working area, what materials are being cut, and the quality of protection being implemented all have an impact on the overall health hazard risk.
It is crucial that workers are educated about the hazards of laser and plasma fumes, smoke, and gas so that they understand the importance of following safety precautions to protect themselves.
Laser cutting is used within a multitude of industries and applications to cut materials like acrylic, spring steel, wood, foam, teflon, and more
The laser cutting process works through a digital computer program that allows workers to precisely measure and receive exact dimensions in their projects. The laser beam is directed at the material that needs to be cut and then vaporizes or melts it to create a finished surface.
Laser cutting machines vary in power and can range from not as hazardous to extremely dangerous. During the cutting process, when the beam interacts with metals, high temperatures cause the encircling air to expand and rapidly release harmful emissions such as smoke, aerosols or chemical vapors.
Worksites and facilities that utilize laser cutting must implement proper filtration systems to ensure workers are protected at all times.
Plasma cutting was developed to cut metals such as aluminum, stainless steel, and copper that require high temperatures in order to be split. The plasma cutting process works by using electrically conductive gas to transfer energy from a power source through a nozzle that contains tungsten electrode which heats and melts work material, and then molten metal is blown away.
During the plasma cutting process, unbreathable dust, smoke, and gases are produced which may include nitrogen, argon, hydrogen, and mixtures with oxygen. When metals that are coated with materials like hexavalent chromium (to avoid corrosion) are being torched, welded or cut they release toxins which can result in irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory systems, and increase the possibility of lung cancer. These contaminants must be captured at the source to protect workers from serious health risks.