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Common Health Concerns About Photocopiers and Multifunction Machines

Some people who are constantly exposed to photocopiers have some health concerns. They are fearful that their health may be compromised as a result of using or sitting near photocopiers. Most concerns are brought about by rumours, overheard conversations and misguided advice from friends. This article hopes that users will find informative and helpful information regarding their concerns.


Before delving into the health concerns, we should first understand the process of photocopying. Current technology uses a process that depends on electrically charged particles being aligned to produce an image. This process is known as xerography or dry printing which was developed by Xerox in the 1960s.

A positive electric charge is made on the surface of the photoconductor drum. Light is then reflected from the white areas of the original document and focused on the charged drum. This light changes the drum surface’s electrical properties and neutralises the charge in those areas. The toner is then placed on the drum and the particles adhere to the positively charged areas.

When paper is passed under the drum, the image is passed onto it. Heat or pressure is used to fuse the toner to the paper.

Sources of Health Concerns


Toner is used by both photocopiers and laser printers. It is an extremely fine powder. It is not classified as a hazardous substance but it has a dust-like appearance so there is concern about respiratory tract irritation that can lead to coughing or sneezing.

Toner dust may become airborne when it is spilled inside the machine and is passed through the ventilation fans in the room. Another reason is when the compartment fills up. This causes the dust to back up inside the equipment. The most common reason is when the user carelessly removes the cartridge causing it to spill. Toner dust is just nuisance and should pose no health concerns other than those mentioned above. However, people who suffer from asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses should avoid changing the cartridge. If this is not possible, they are advised to be very careful when changing the cartridge and to put on a mask.

If you spill toner, vacuum it up than sweeping it or brushing it off to avoid dust clouds. Remove the remainder using a cold damp cloth. Avoid hot water as it can melt the toner and make it sticky. Dispose of it as normal waste but place it in a sealed bag to contain the powder.

Carbon Black

Usually, 7% of the toner is composed of carbon black. It became a cause for concern when a group of Swedish scientists noticed that some toners caused genetic changes in test systems that involved bacteria. Since then, manufacturers of carbon black changed their process. There have been numerous studies made to determine the effects of exposure to this substance. In all those studies, no evidence of cancer production or unusual deaths were present. Therefore, small contents of carbon black is not a cause for concern.

Polymer Resin

These machines use a low melt polymer resin. The heat required for this process is just enough to melt the resin. The vapour produced is minimal and insignificant for any problems to occur.


This is the most common concern among users of copiers and multifunction machines. Ozone or O3 is a form of oxygen. It is a normal part of the earth’s atmosphere. It is an unstable and highly reactive gas. It is colourless and has a distinctive odour. When placed at room temperature, it decomposes rapidly to O2 when it comes into contact with furnishings.

As ozone is a highly reactive substance, any health problems should be found on initial contact. This will involve the nose, throat, airways, lungs and eyes. The problem is irritation and damage to the small airways in the lungs.

Ozone is used to improve air quality in offices; to suppress odours in hotel rooms, commercial kitchens, food processing plants, cafeterias, etc. It is also used as a disinfectant in the production of drinking water, swimming pools, etc. It is produced in photocopiers and laser printers.

Low Risk Activities

Working with photocopiers and multifunction devices are considered low risk as there may be just a slight exposure to small amounts of ozone. This poses no significant threat to one’s health. The risk is only to the respiratory tract. However, there are some instances where a build up of ozone can happen when a person works in an inadequately ventilated room.

Place the equipment according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Place it in a well ventilated room. Staff are advised to keep the room well-ventilated by opening doors and windows.

Light and UV

Copier lamps emit both visible and ultraviolet light. The UV light does not pass through the glass plate where the original document is placed. Exposure to visible light of the operator is minimal and is way below the permissible levels of exposure. Keep the cover closed while copying. If that is not possible, look away from the light source.

Noise and Heat

Noise and heat production varies on the make and model of your equipment. Some multifunction machines can be noisy and equipment that is heavily used can produce a lot of heat. Excessive noise and heat can cause fatigue and are distracting. This can also cause some stress in employees that can lead to low productivity and inaccuracies at work. Noise levels below 50 decibels are preferred in the workplace. It should therefore be necessary to strategically place the machine in an area where it does not disturb anybody. Good ventilation or air conditioning will prevent too much heat.


In modern printers, the original document is read and recreated using a laser beam. Machines today have a series of safety devices that prevent the user from being exposed to the beam. They are therefore considered non-hazardous.

End Notes

Always read the manufacturer’s manual before installing any equipment. Ask your supplier for any special recommendations to prevent health hazards. The risks of using these devices are slight but common sense and careful usage is still advised.

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