3D printing in schools – a review of new safety guidance

Steve Burrows, managing director at Kora 3D, summarises the key responsibilities for schools using 3D printers

3D printing technology is increasingly being used in schools to inspire a new generation of engineers. Design and technology teachers are using the technology to bring their subject to life, allowing pupils to design, prototype and optimise their designs.

However, as 3D printing in schools has continued to evolve, some teachers have understandably expressed concerns about its safety and the emissions 3D printers might produce. The Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services (CLEAPSS), an advisory service providing support in science and technology to schools, was so concerned about the number of requests for advice it was receiving from schools, and the lack of availability of any such guidelines, that it reported the issue to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In response, the HSE formed a working group including HSE scientific and regulatory staff, a manufacturer of 3D printers, CLEAPSS and the British Standards Institute, to identify the risks and develop a good practice guide for the safe use of FFF/FDM style desktop 3D printers in schools.

As 3D printing in schools has continued to evolve, some teachers have understandably expressed concerns about its safety and the emissions 3D printers might produce.

The resulting 70 page report was released last month and has left many schools asking what they need to do to ensure the safety of pupils and staff.

The key requirements are as follows:

  1. Firstly, it is very important that schools conduct a risk assessment that is tailored to their premises, and that they identify all legislation that is relevant to them. If your school uses or creates substances or carries out processes which might cause harm to health, the law requires you to control the risks. The term ‘control’ can apply to actions taken, to processes, or to safety equipment used to minimise employee’s exposure to hazardous substances.

The following pieces of legislation are all applicable to schools who use 3D printers as part of their teaching:

  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Workplace Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992

In addition, local-authority-run school premises and facilities in England must be maintained to a standard which ensures the health, safety and welfare of pupils under The School Premises (England) Regulations 2012. Similar provisions are found in Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 for Wales, and for private schools in separate legislation. These will all apply to the areas in which 3D printers are housed.

  1. Always ensure the 3D printer purchased and any associated materials such as filament, carry the CE mark.
  2. Wherever possible use PLA to reduce the risk from fumes and particulate emissions. Filaments can be affected by the temperature, humidity (some absorb moisture) and light (some are light sensitive), so should be stored in sealed, dry and dark containers.
  3. Because of the risk of emissions from 3D printers, the new HSE guidance places a big focus on ventilation. To protect users from emissions, the room in which the printer is located must be well ventilated, with space for working around the equipment, and with an adequate power supply. CLEAPPS goes further and recommends the use of local exhaust ventilation (LEV) such as an ‘exposure control cabinet’. This should be fitted over the 3D printer with an adequate fan and filters to enable the removal of small particles and organic emissions from the melting of the plastic filaments.
  4. Be aware of potential contact with moving and heated parts of the printer as body parts, hair and clothing could become trapped in the moving printer parts and skin could become pinched between belts and drive wheels. The nozzle of the 3D printer can reach high temperatures of between 200 – 300º C. Some 3D printers also have a heated print bed reaching to between 50 – 100 º C. The skin could be severely burnt if it comes in to contact with these heated parts. Immediately after the printing finishes, printed materials may also be hot enough to burn. Again, considering enclosing the 3D printer is a suggestion.

More information on the health and safety regulations listed above can be found on the government website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/