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Laser Safety

Laser Safety

Hazard Overview

Hazard Overview

What is a laser?

The term laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Unlike other common sources of light, lasers emit light that is coherent and is monochromatic (one color).

How are lasers classified and what hazards do they present?

Visible-beam lasers are classified according to the output power of the light beam and correspondingly, the increasing potential for causing injury to eyes and skin. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies lasers into one of the following four major classes, including three subclasses (IEC classifications are included in parentheses):

  • Class I (Class 1, 1M). Lasers in this category are considered non-hazardous and can be found in devices such as laser printers, CD players and DVD players.

  • Class IIa and Class II (Class 2, 2M). Lasers in this category pose an ocular hazard when viewed for long periods of time and, especially, when optical aids are used. Class II lasers emit power in the range of 0 to 1 milliWatt (1 mW) power. Lasers in this category can be found in bar code scanners.

  • Class IIIa (Class 3R). Lasers in this classification can be momentarily hazardous when directly viewed or when staring directly at the beam with the unaided eye depending upon the power and beam area. Lasers in this classification can be found in laser pointers and emit radiation between 1-5 mW. 

  • Class IIIb (Class 3B). Lasers in this category pose a risk of immediate skin damage from a direct beam and immediate eye damage when viewed directly. Lasers in this classification emit between 5 and 500 mW of power. Class IIIb lasers can be found in laser light show projectors, industrial lasers and research lasers.

  • Class IV (Class 4). Lasers in this category pose an immediate skin and eye hazard from direct or reflected beam. Lasers in this category can also be a fire hazard and emit 500 mW or greater power.  They are found in laser light show projectors, industrial lasers, research lasers and medical devices for eye surgery or skin treatments.  

 

Solutions

Solutions

What can I do to protect myself and others?

Proper personal protective equipment, especially eye protection of the appropriate tint, should be worn whenever working with lasers other than Class I lasers or when assisting others who are using laser devices. Before operating the laser device, ensure that all necessary enclosures are in place. Do not enter areas where warning signs are posted about lasers in use unless authorized to do so and equipped with proper eye protection.

Employers must perform a job hazard assessment and provide the appropriate PPE, especially eye protection of appropriate tint, to employees using laser devices. In addition, they must train employees about the hazards associated with the classes of lasers they will be using. Where laser devices (other than Class I) are present, the employer should appoint a Laser Safety Officer (LSO) and establish a Laser Safety Committee to manage the laser safety program for the facility. This is especially important if Class IIIb and Class IV laser devices are being used.

What resources are available to assist employers?

An example PPE hazard assessment is available and can be customized to fit workplace conditions. Employers are required to perform a workplace hazard assessment to determine what personal protective equipment is necessary to protect employees from continued exposure to identified hazards. In addition, the presentation on personal protective equipment can be modified to address site-specific conditions and hazards.

Additional information pertaining to personal protective equipment and radiation, ionizing and non-ionizing can be found on the A-Z topics pages. In addition, the Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.

The NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC). The education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request. Lastly, the consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.

 

Regulations

Regulations

Which standards apply?

General Industry

There are no specific OSH general industry standards for laser hazards. However, the following general industry standards adopted by the OSH Division can be applied:

Construction

Additionally, N.C. General Statute 95-129(1), commonly referred to as the General Duty Clause, may be applied for recognized serious hazards not covered by a specific NCDOL standard.

 

Learn More

Learn More

Where can I learn more?

Additional information about lasers and laser safety can be obtained through the webpages for the OSHA - Laser Safety Institute (LSI) Alliance.

If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to ask.osh@labor.nc.gov or by calling 919-707-7876.