Using copiers, printers and similar equipment

This guidance can help employers eliminate or reduce and control risks from printers and copiers.

Potential hazards

Copiers and printers produce heat and light during use. Some equipment may also result in the release of particles and gases into the environment. Buying well-designed equipment and using appropriate control measures will ensure copying and similar equipment does not pose a risk to health and safety.

Common issues

Exposure to light from the photocopier

The lamp used in photocopiers produces intense light. This can affect what you can see for a short time, rather like a camera flash does. During normal operation the thick glass plate between the lamp and the operator screens out any harmful light such as ultraviolet rays. Nevertheless, continuous exposure to the bright light can lead to eye discomfort, even though damage is unlikely. Control measures from exposure to the photocopier light include closing the cover when the copier is in use, looking away when the lamp is on and locating copiers away from employees.

Ventilation for multiple machines

Photocopiers, printers and facsimile machines are often in one room. Adequate ventilation will ensure atmospheric contaminants do not build up to levels that may pose a risk to the health of employees around these machines. Normally, the door should be left open to help air flow. If noise is a concern or the door is closed for other reasons, the effect on ventilation should be assessed and appropriate modifications made.

Toner dust

The extremely low levels of impurities in toners are believed not to warrant concern for long-term health effects. Toner dust can enter the atmosphere during toner replacement or disposal of waste. If inhaled, the dust may irritate, causing coughing and sneezing. A copy of the safety data sheet (SDS) from the toner manufacturer will provide the health and safety information needed to identify and assess the hazards. It will also provide handling and storage information.

Ozone

Some photocopiers produce ozone. Eye and nose irritation or a prickly sensation may indicate ozone levels are increasing, however the concentration of ozone around copying equipment is insufficient to cause known adverse health effects.

Nanoparticles from laser printers

Laser printers can emit nanoparticles, particles between 1 and 100 nanometres. However the risk from nanoparticles is considered low, particularly if employers:

  • locate printers in ventilated areas
  • locate printers away from workstations
  • do not group printers together
  • ensure regular servicing and maintenance of printers

More information about nanoparticles and printers is available in Safe Work Australia's report, Nanoparticles from printer emissions in workplace environments.

Physical factors

Possible discomfort from the light, heat and noise from copying equipment should be considered. Although exposure to photocopier lights has not been shown to cause eye damage, discomfort to operators or persons working in the vicinity is possible and should be prevented. It can also be distracting.

Unless ventilation is inadequate, heat from standard office copying equipment will have little effect on the office environment. Hot machine components, however, can pose a hazard to employees opening equipment to clear paper jams.

The noise from office equipment can cause annoyance and distraction to employees working in the vicinity. For more information, see WorkSafe's guidance about noise.

Also consider the physical comfort of employees operating copying equipment. Assess whether they are at possible risk of hazardous manual handling and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from repetitive sorting and collating with less efficient equipment. See WorkSafe's guidance for more information about hazardous manual handling and MSDs.

Tips and recommendations

The following recommendations can help safeguard the health and safety of employees working with copiers and similar office equipment.

  • When buying new equipment:
    • choose machines that recycle toner, use sealed toner cartridges and waste containers, filter exhaust air and have automatic cut-off when the waste container is full or when the machine is opened
    • buy toner with specifications indicating minimal risks to health and safety
    • consider noise emission and where the machine is to be located
    • ensure there are no exposed moving parts posing risk during normal operation
    • design must not allow contact with live electrical contacts for operators clearing paper jams
  • Locate equipment in a well-ventilated area. Seek a location with the least disruption to surrounding employees. Machinery should not obstruct aisles or building exits. Ensure adequate space around the machine for operation and access for maintenance.
  • Install equipment according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Obtain appropriate operating diagrams, instruction manuals and SDS and locate them near the equipment.
  • Specify personnel to carry out routine operations such as clearing paper jams and changing toner containers. Provide specific training to these employees and general appropriate training to all users of the equipment.
  • Procedures for safe use of the machine, together with the name of the person nominated as responsible for the machine, should be clearly displayed.
  • All copying and like machines should be regularly maintained to manufacturer specifications by authorised service personnel and a register kept of maintenance, repairs and replacements.
  • Consider the height and positioning of equipment and work surfaces to avoid operators sustaining awkward postures.
  • Always avoid looking directly at the light from photocopiers. The document cover should be closed wherever possible when photocopying.
  • Exercise appropriate safety precautions when clearing paper misfeeds. Beware of hot components and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • While spilled toner may not be hazardous, gloves should be readily available and used during clean up. Dispose of waste toner as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Continuous photocopying and collating should be avoided. Schedule duties appropriately or allow for adequate breaks from such tasks.
  • Consider features such as automatic stapling, hole punching, collating and double sided printing to eliminate these manual tasks.

Hazardous substances

Some of the substances used in offices may be hazardous, however these generally pose little risk under normal circumstances and normal use within the office environment. Examples of such substances include cleaning fluids, liquid paper, glues, inks, solvents and cleaning agents.

An up-to-date SDS should be available for each substance used at the workplace. An SDS can be obtained from the supplier of the product. For more information, see WorkSafe's SDS guidance.

After doing a survey of materials used in the office and obtaining SDS information from the suppliers, assemble copies of the information at accessible points as a register. For example, information about materials used in the office and their SDS could be kept in a ring binder in the tearoom or photocopier room.

An assessment of exposure should take place for each hazardous substance used in the office.

Your legal duties

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including psychological health, so far as reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs) on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety.

Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.

Find out more about office work and your legal obligations on the WorkSafe website page, The risk management approach to health and safety.