Laser light, because of its special optical qualities, poses safety hazards not associated with light from conventional sources. The safe use of lasers requires all operators, and everyone near the laser system, to be aware of the dangers involved. Users must be receive laser safety training and be familiar with the instrument and the properties of coherent, intense beams of light.
The safety precautions listed below are to be read and observed by anyone working with or near the laser. At all times, ensure that all personnel who operate, maintain or service the laser are protected from accidental or unnecessary exposure to laser radiation exceeding the accessible emission limits listed in ‘Performance Standards for Laser Products,’ United States Code of Federal Regulations, 21CFR1040 10(d).
The greatest concern when using a laser is eye safety. In addition to the main beam, there are often many smaller beams present at various angles near the laser system. These beams are formed by specular and/or direct reflections of the main beam at polished surfaces such as lenses or beamsplitters. While sometimes weaker than the main beam, such beams may still be sufficiently intense to cause eye damage.
Laser beams are powerful enough to burn skin, clothing and combustible material even at some distance. They can ignite volatile substances such as alcohol, gasoline, ether and other flammable solvents, and can damage light-sensitive elements in video cameras, photomultipliers and photodiodes. The user is advised to follow the precautions below.
- Observe all safety precautions described in the preinstallation and operator’s manuals.
- Wear laser safety eyewear rated to protect against the specific emitted wavelengths and/or generated wavelengths. Laser eyewear suppliers are advertised in Laser Focus World and Photonics Spectra Buyer’s Guide.Consult the ANSI, ACGIH, or OSHA standards for guidance.
- Avoid wearing watches, jewelry, or other objects that may reflect or scatter the laser beam.
- Stay aware of the laser beam path, particularly when external optics are used to steer the beam.
- Provide enclosures for beam paths whenever possible.
- Use appropriate energy-absorbing targets for beam blocking.
- Block the beam before applying tools such as Allen wrenches or ball drivers to external optics.
- Limit access to the laser to qualified users who are familiar with laser safety practices. When not in use, lasers should be shut down completely and made off-limits to unauthorized personnel.
- Terminate the laser beam with a light-absorbing material. Laser light can remain collimated over long distances and therefore presents a potential hazard if not confined. It is good practice to operate the laser in an enclosed room.
- Post warning signs in the area of the laser to alert those present.
- Exercise extreme caution when using solvents in the area of the laser.
- Never look directly into the laser beam or at scattered laser light from any reflective surface. Never sight down the beam.
- Set up the laser so that the beam height is either well below or well above eye level.
- Avoid direct exposure to the laser light. Laser beams can easily cause flesh burns or may scorch clothing.
- Advise all those working with or near the laser of these precautions.