Photocopier Health and Safety

Some alarming claims have been made about the health and safety risks of photocopiers. This article aims to explain any potential risks associated with copy machines and allay fears generated by unfounded and exaggerated claims.

The photocopy process has changed with the advent of digital technology. Analogue photocopiers used reflective light to discharge particles and create a latent image. Digital copiers, however, scan the document and then use re-create the latent image via a laser or led array.

Ultraviolet Light

Analogue photocopiers used powerful lamps to reflect the image through an array of mirrors to the photosensitive drum or sheet. With the advent of digital technology, the lamps didn’t need to be as powerful and risk of exposure to the light lessened. It is still not recommended to directly look at the light but risks have now reduced.


Ozone is a naturally produced gas and as you might be aware vital to our planet. Acceptable levels of ozone are 0.2 milligrams of ozone per cubic meter of air as set out by OSHA. Ozone is an invisible gas but has a strong sweet smelling odour that can even be smelt below permissible levels of exposure.

Ozone is produced by the photocopier when charging the drum or sheet. To produce a latent image it is first necessary to charge the photosensitive area. High voltage charge is used to create a blanket charge on the surface of the photosensitive area before the laser, led or reflective light discharges part of the surface area to create the latent image.

In creating high electrical charges you also create ozone. This is minimised by most office photocopy machines today that use a charge roller. Higher levels of ozone are produced by large copy machines that rely on charge wire. That said all photocopier machines are built with ozone filters. A charcoal based filter that ensures ozone remains at safe levels.


When Xerox originally created the photocopier they used selenium as the photosensitive coating for drums. Selenium when overheated can such nasty things such as insomnia and affect health. That’s why copier companies including Xerox stopped using selenium many years ago. Most office photocopiers use OPC (Organic Photo Conductor) as the photosensitive coating.


Toner is the fine powder used by photocopiers to create an image. If inhaled in sufficient quantities toner can cause irritation to the throat. However modern copiers use sealed containers to transfer toner and risk of exposure is minimal. Toner is not harmful according to and COSHH however its not advisable to breathe in toner dust and if the sealed container leaks you should stop and call an engineer for assistance.


The photocopier laser used in modern copy machines is relatively weak. The machine can not be operated with the laser exposed so as long as the machine is operated within manufacturer guidelines there is no risk to health and safety.

Photocopiers are actually very safe equipment to be around and operate. Always follow manufacturers guidelines and have the equipment regularly serviced.



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