Computer Laboratory

Health & Safety

Risk assessment - photocopier toner

These pages are concerned with the use of toner in photocopiers within the Computer Laboratory - both during normal use of the machines, and while loading/unloading toner.
The laser aspect of the copiers will not be dealt with here.

Identified hazards

Several substances within toner have known risks to health, both on direct exposure and resulting from emissions during the photocopying process.

Hazards associated with storage of toner (flammability, manual handling problems) are considered negligible as only one or two toner cartridges are kept on site at any time, and will not be considered further.

Who these hazards affect

These hazards can affect photocopier users, and to a greater extent, members of staff who insert toner.

One of the photocopiers in the department is operated under a contract such that toner will only ever be replaced by contract maintenance staff.

One of the others has in the past had its toner replaced by Reception staff.
The others are handled by one of a small number of people, usually a technician.

Reasonably foreseeable outcome

Toners are usually a mixture of plastic resin, iron powder and carbon black (CAS 1333-86-4).

Carbon black is classified as a nuisance dust (a group 2B carcinogen, "possibly carcinogenic to humans").

Animal studies have not revealed any carcinogenic qualities in inhalation tests of carbon black. Hence it is implied that at office exposure levels during normal use there is no increased risk of developing cancer from exposure to the toner itself.

Carbon black may contain impurities known to be carcinogens.
Contact with the tongue can lead to:

  • small growths
  • irritated eyes
  • headache
  • itching skin
  • Direct contact with toner can lead to skin and eye sensitisation

Chemicals generated during operation of a typical photocopier include:
ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds.

Ozone is produced during the high voltage electrical discharge in photocopiers. It is highly toxic, with health effects such as:

  • eye, nose, throat and lung irritation
  • dermatitis
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • premature ageing
  • potential reproductive dangers

However, it does dissipate quickly if there is adequate ventilation.

The manual for the four smaller machines used in the department (Sharp AR-151) asserts "the emission level is insufficient to cause any health hazard".

Carbon monoxide can be produced when toner is heated if there is inadequate air supply.

Its effects include:
  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • increased pulse rate

A range of volatile organic compounds can also be emitted, several of which are carcinogenic.

Standards that should be achieved

  1. Photocopiers should not be placed in conditions that could result in poor ventilation.
  2. Toner should only be changed by staff or other persons familiar with the risks involved.

Control measures already in place

  • All photocopiers are in large rooms or well ventilated areas.
  • The construction of toner containers is such that inhalation and contact with skin and eyes is minimised during insertion and removal.
  • None of the photocopiers are documented as requiring specialist personal protection while changing toner.
  • During storage the containers are sealed and hence are no cause for concern.

Additional actions to be taken

The additional actions which need to be taken to achieve the required standards (i.e to include the dissemination of information to those affected) are as follows:
  1. The large photocopier is in room GC18. This room has adequate ventilation, but staff should be discouraged from spending long periods operating, and hence close to, the machine.
  2. Staff unfamiliar with the potential hazards should not be permitted to change toner in any of the machines.
  3. Staff responsible for changing toner should be encouraged to wash their hands afterwards to prevent the possibility of skin irritation or inadvertent transfer to their eyes.