Are Copiers Dangerous?


Copiers, or MFPs (multifunction printers) are found in almost every business setting. Most companies could not function without one. They are the office workhorse.

Could a device that is in constant use, and is easily accessible to everyone, be a health hazard? Without proper maintenance, placement consideration and a bit of common sense….then yes, it could be. However, preventing that from becoming the case really could not be simpler.

So what hazards might the office copier pose to you and your coworkers?

Ozone is a colorless gas with a distinctive odor. Indoors, it can be created by photocopiers to get ink to cling to paper. Although it is a natural occurrence in the atmosphere (your local weatherman may have used the term “ozone action day”), it can be harmful if inhaled in larger amounts. For all properly maintained copiers, that’s not normally a problem. Malfunctioning copiers, however, can pump out elevated levels of ozone which could lead to headaches, eye and breathing problems and even respiratory conditions for people with asthma or who are more sensitive to irritants. Many of today’s enterprise-level devices include an ozone filter.

Toner dust
The toner in copiers is technically a carcinogen. Just like ozone, in sufficient quantities, toner dust can produce respiratory problems, coughing and sneezing. Most often, the fine-particle toner dust is introduced into the air by toner spillage, especially during the replacement of toner cartridges. But malfunctioning devices could also be leaking toner inside the copier cabinet. Since photocopiers usually produce high heat, they also employ ventilation systems and fans, which can pick up that dust exhaust it into the air.

Other hazards
Selenium is used as a photoconductive coating on the copier’s drum. When the device routinely overheats, or is just plain old, it can cause the selenium to deteriorate. The dust can be pumped into the surrounding air, much like toner dust. Overexposure to selenium dust can lead to unexplained fatigue and concentration issues, as well as respiratory and eye irritation.

Although rare, carbon monoxide gas can also be produced by poorly maintained or malfunctioning copiers, or machines placed where they don’t have adequate ventilation. It would be an unusual (but not unheard of) event for it to reach very harmful levels.

Quick fixes
As we mentioned earlier, the steps to prevent these issues are exceptionally simple:

1) Routine device maintenance is the single most important thing you can do for the office copier and your coworkers. Often times, the technology provider that you purchased or leased the device from can supply you with a service contract or service on an as-needed basis.

2) Try to find an open, easily accessible place to set up your copier. Look for a place that has good and constant air circulation. If this place is also away a decent distance from employee desks or areas where people congregate (the break room, coffee machine or conference room), then even better.

3) If you choose to change the toner supply yourself, make sure you know what you are doing beforehand. Read the directions so that the task can be accomplished quickly and safely. If any amount of toner does spill, keep people away from the area until it can swept or vacuumed up.

Return to the Tech Trends Newsletter