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Basic Laser Safety - Basic Safety Precautions

    One should exercise the same kinds of safety precautions around lasers as with any other power tool or electrical device paying special attention to eye safety.

Caution: Laser In Use sign

NEVER point a laser in someone's eyes, even low power hand held units can cause eye damage due to the focusing effect of the lens in the eye.

    Laser Safety glasses/goggles with specially coated lenses are available.  The coatings on the lenses are designed to absorb or attenuate certain wavelengths so that if you are accidentally struck in the eye by the beam, damage is minimized.  Unfortunately these glasses often make it difficult if not impossible to see the beam.  A pair of welders goggles will work as they reduce the light to the eyes by a factor of 10X to 50X.  While welding goggles will not give total protection, they may reduce the beam power down to levels where damage is less likely.

    Stay outside of any 'safe zone' around lasers at shows. The 'safe zone' is there to prevent audience access to the laser equipment and to prevent spectators [you] from harming themselves or being hit by laser beams.

    Higher power static (un-scanned) beams such as those projected by beam tables or reflected from bounce mirrors should be kept above the spectator's heads and out of the audience's reach. The ANSI standard (used internationally) and the CDRH standards (used in the USA) specify that such un-scanned (static) beams are to separated from the audience by 3 meters vertically and 2.5 meters laterally.

  • NEVER project un-scanned beams into an audience.

  • NEVER use mirrors or watch crystals to deflect static beams at shows as you can cause eye damage to yourself or other spectators.

  • NEVER float Mylar coated balloons at shows into the beam paths above the audience as they can deflect laser beams into people's eyes..

  • NEVER deflect laser beams with hand held mirrors as they are difficult to control and can direct beams in unexpected ways causing eye damage.

  • NEVER track a moving vehicle such as a car or aircraft with a laser - even a very low power hand held HeNe laser or diode based laser pointer. With higher power units you may temporarily blind the operator or destroy their night vision. The effect is similar to having your picture taken with a flash camera in a dark room.  There is no permanent damage but your vision is disrupted and there is an afterimage of the flash that persist for some seconds.  Even low power lasers may cause a distraction to the driver/pilot leading to an accident.

    To eliminate skin burns, don't place your body parts into high power laser beams.

 

Electrical Safety

   
When working on the electrical systems of lasers, use the 'buddy' system. In the event that you come in contact with a live high voltage AC power line, your muscles will spasm making it difficult or impossible to let go of the line. Your 'buddy' should use a broom stick to whack your hand off the power terminals. You would rather be alive with a broken finger or wrist than dead from electrocution!
   If you have to operate the laser system with the cabinets open (E.G. when troubleshooting), have an assistant standing by to disconnect the power at the main switch/breaker in case of problems.
   To avoid electrical problems from water in the exciter (power supply), check that all fittings are tight, replace worn washers and keep the floor dry.

 

Signage

   Many jurisdictions require that appropriate warning signage be placed in areas where lasers are being operated or on the laser system/equipment itself.  An example is the "Caution: Laser In Use" sign shown at the top of these pages.  The most common sign required is the "Danger Laser Radiation" sign reproduced below.  This sign contains an area at the bottom where the details of the laser type (E.G.: Argon Laser) and output power (E.G.: 100 mW) are inserted.  Be sure to find out if signage is required in your jurisdiction and make sure the appropriate signs are posted.

Danger Laser Radiation sign

Download a full size version of this sign - LaserDangerSign.zip 42 KB

 

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