About Maker Spaces
Maker spaces, also known as fab labs and hacker spaces, are places to gather, exchange ideas, invent, and create. These spaces are found in libraries, dormitories, academic and other workshops, both on and off-campus. The tools and equipment often include hand tools, computers and software, and may include three dimensional (3D) printers, laser cutters, and milling machines. It is the responsibility of the sponsoring organization and the users to ensure that the spaces and equipment are used and maintained in a safe manner.
Maker Spaces are Shops
In many ways, Maker Spaces are like other workshops: they vary widely in their purpose and the types of equipment they have on hand. Similarly, the potential hazards reflect the equipment as well as the activities in the space. EH&S has another page that provides some good guidelines for general shop safety. Like other shops, there are some key factors in having a safe Maker Space.
- Control access: only trained, authorized persons can use the space.
- Require orientation and training for every user, including general and specific equipment hazards, safety rules, emergency procedures, and document the training.
- Control hazards: use machine safeguards, air filters or exhaust ventilation, and personal protective equipment (e.g., safety glasses, chemical resistant gloves).
- Assign a responsible person to provide supervision, advice, training, and enforce rules.
- Keep the space clean, neat and well-organized. Maintain tools and equipment, protective gear, first aid kits and fire extinguishers so they are ready to use. Use a shop safety checklist.
Responsibility for Safety
Powered equipment, tools and machinery present a risk for serious injury. The majority of injuries reported in Maker Spaces are from accidents related to hand tools and burns from hot 3D printer resin. Users have the responsibility to familiarize themselves with the safety features of the tools and equipment they use so they do no harm to themselves, others, or the equipment. Supervisors need to train and oversee users of their spaces. If you are interested in designing a maker space, contact EH&S for support in designing a safe place to learn and be inventive. Other UW resources on designing a maker space are available at
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is becoming more common at UW campuses in maker spaces and in research labs and classrooms. New users may not realize that 3D printers, the materials they use, or their products and waste could present health or safety hazards. Contact with hot internal parts or hot plastic resin could result in burns or other hand injuries. Toxic volatile compounds can be emitted. Respiratory irritation can be caused by ultra-fine ("nano”) particles released during printing or by particles released during sanding and grinding to finish the object. Dust can also make floors slippery and some dust can be combustible. Some printers use lasers or ultraviolet light and direct exposure could cause damage to your vision.
Here are some ways to reduce exposure to hazards and prevent injuries:
- Get trained on the safe and efficient use of the printer before you use it.
- Read the printer manual and operating instructions, and don't operate it if it is not clean and in good working condition. Never try to defeat the safety features.
- Make sure the printer is enclosed and has an interlock system that prevents the machine from running while moving parts are exposed. (User-constructed prototypes may not have these safety features.)
- Ensure that printers with lasers or UV light are properly shielded to prevent eye exposure.
- Use manufacturer recommended materials, or less hazardous or "green" resins, plastics or other materials to make your product.
- Ensure the room has an adequate air supply and exhaust to dilute and eliminate printer emissions.
- Promptly clean up and properly dispose of dust, scraps and waste.
- Turn off, unplug and cool down the unit prior to cleaning or repairing.
- Read the safety data sheet and use the correct protective gear when using chemicals to clean printed parts. Dispose of chemical waste properly.
- If you are working with or producing metal dust, you need to have a Class D fire extinguisher on hand as other types are less effective.
Some recent research characterizes 3D printer emissions. In 2016, NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health) funded a study on emissions from a limited number of printer types. They provided some recommendations for controlling and reducing exposures:
- Always use and properly maintain the manufacturer's supplied controls and filter system.
- Use the printer in a large, open, well-ventilated place (open window or at least four air changes per hour), or exhaust the printer directly outdoors. The size, type, and number of printers will determine if room ventilation alone is sufficient.
- Position work stations away from printers to minimize breathing in emitted particles, and choose a low-emitting printer and filament when possible.
- Turn off the printer if the printer nozzle jams, and allow it to ventilate before removing the cover.
- Use materials with lower emissions that are recommended by the manufacturer, such as PLA instead of ABS. ABS is also more toxic.
- Institute engineering controls, including manufacturer-supplied equipment and proper ventilation (a full enclosure appears more effective at controlling emissions than a cover).
- Finally, after doing all of the above, you can consider wearing a particle filtering respirator (N95) to reduce your exposure.
If you have a design and would like to try out a 3D printer, there are designated maker spaces that will provide you with training and safety orientation, such as the Co-Motion space at Fluke Hall. If you want more detailed information about 3D printer safety, or want to design a space, contact EH&S at email@example.com. Or check out these resources:.
Information about a new enclosure that features ultrafine particle and volatile organic carbon filtration can be found here:
Laser cutters use a powerful beam of light to cut, drill, or etch various materials. Laser light can damage vision but if operated properly, the laser light is contained within the cutter. The laser beam is very hot so the equipment needs to be properly cleaned and maintained to reduce the risk of fire. Also, as the laser cuts the material, various by-products are produced including gases, vapors, particles, and metal fumes. Therefore, laser cutters must be connected to either a filtration system that meets manufacturer specifications or exhausted directly to the outdoors. Here are some safety precautions for using laser cutters:
- Properly install and maintain the laser cutter according to manufacturer specifications.
- Use the specified filtration system or have a local exhaust system installed prior to use. Change filters according to manufacturer’s guidelines.
- Train users in proper use of the equipment, including which materials are permissible to cut, cleaning the equipment, and emergency procedures.
- Always supervise the laser cutting or engraving process to ensure that combustible materials do not ignite.
- Keep the area around the laser cutter free of combustible materials, and have a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher nearby. Users should know how to use the fire extinguisher or get trained by EH&S.
If you have questions, contact EH&S at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are some resources for more information on laser cutters:
Milling Machines and CNC Mills
Milling machines and computer-numerical-controlled (CNC) mills use moving cutters and/or move stock materials to cut shapes in the material. Stock may be metal, wood, or plastic. Mills cut away material using rotating blades, and can throw or eject dust and chips at high speed. Flying chips present an eye injury hazard. Fine dust can be a respiratory hazard. Mills can also be very loud, presenting a threat to hearing as well as drowning out voices, phones, and alarms. Rotating machinery presents a serious hazard, as gloves, clothing, jewelry or loose hair can be caught and body parts drawn into the running machine. Mills have guards to prevent some exposure, and some are completely enclosed when running. Safety rules include:
- Getting trained on the operation of the specific mill you are going to use.
- Never work alone, never leave the milling machine unattended while running, and know where the emergency stop controls are located.
- Securely clamp the stock material in place.
- Secure guards, shields, doors in place prior to starting.
- Keep hands, tools, and clothing at least 12 inches away from the moving mill and do not attempt to adjust the mill while operating.
- Wear safety glasses or goggles, and hearing protection if needed. Do not wear gloves near operating equipment.
- Keep the mill surfaces and shop floor clean of cuttings and dust. Metal filings can combust spontaneously and require a Class D fire extinguisher.
- Machinery must be completely disconnected from power (and tested) if it is to be repaired or adjusted (lock-out/ tag-out).
Contact EH&S at email@example.com if you have safety questions. Here are some additional references: