Laser Safety Program

St. Lawrence University

Radiation Safety

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v. 7.10.01


What is a laser? - Potential hazard?

Responsibility and Administration

Responsibility of the RSO/LSO

Responsibilities Of Registered Laser Operators

Laser Standards and Regulations

Laser classification

Applicability to St. Lawrence University and Scope of the Program

Laser safety control guidelines

Policy pertaining to entertainment company and or performers using laser light displays


What is a laser? The word laser is an acronym that stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. In simpler terms, it is a device that emits an intense, focused beam of light.

Potential hazard: Through the continuous influx of readings and awareness concerning radiation safety, there is an increased awareness of the regulatory attention being given to laser safety. The radiation emitted from lasers is one of many forms of non-ionizing radiation, with the other most familiar form being ultraviolet light radiation. This radiation, if energetic enough, can cause damage to live tissues of the body with the most notable concern being damage to eyes. In our university setting, occupational exposure to laser radiation poses a safety and liability risk that should be addressed. There are other potential hazards related to lasers and laser devices. These include electrical, air contaminants, chemical, explosion, ultraviolet light, radio frequency, compressed gas, x-ray and ionizing radiation hazards.


Responsibility and administration: The president of St. Lawrence University is responsible for all aspects of radiation safety, including both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. The president shall be fully aware of the regulations and guidelines for such safety matters and designates authority for the conduct of a radiation safety program to the radiation safety officer (RSO) of the university. Non-ionizing radiation safety matters will be included in the overall scope of the radiation safety program. The possession of class IIIa and IIIb lasers by St. Lawrence University legally necessitates the conduct of a laser safety program as well as the appointment of a laser safety officer (LSO) and a laser safety committee (LSC). This program and the duties of the LSO and LSC shall be added to the established radiation safety program that is executed through the existing Radiation Safety Officer and Radiation Safety Committee (RSC). The rationale here is that lasers represent the non-ionizing radiation portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and are related to many of the same issues regarding the use of ionizing radiation sources. The infrastructure for implementation and execution of a laser safety program is already well developed within the duties of the RSO and RSC.


Responsibilities of the RSO/LSO:

The duties and responsibilities of the LSO are set in ANSI Z136.5-2000 section 1.2.2 and in ANSI Z136.1-2000 section 1.3.1, 1.3.2, and appendix D.

The RSO/LSO is responsible for the maintenance and implementation of the laser safety program as part of the jurisdiction over radiation safety at St. Lawrence University. More specifically:

The LSO shall be authorized to enforce all aspects of the laser safety program in accordance with ANSI standards as well as federal and state regulations.

Oversee and approve the procurement of all regulated lasers and laser devices.

Document the inventory and registration of regulated lasers

Ensure proper decommissioning and disposal of lasers.

Document and coordinate laser operator training, registration and authorize laser operators.

Ensure that students using lasers are properly trained in laser safety.

Provide or coordinate appropriate laser safety education (including UV light safety and laser pointer safety).

Develop and maintain an internet webpage for radiation safety education and resources (forms, etc.).

Assist and coordinate the development and oversight of restricted laser control areas for class IIIb and IV lasers where appropriate.

Perform periodic safety inspections of laser control areas and laser use areas to ensure and enforce compliance with the laser safety regulations.

Perform safety inspections of new or modified laser facilities prior to use.

Document and investigate all incidents and accident involving laser radiation exposure and to report these when appropriate to state authorities.

Ensure that all required warning signage is properly posted.

Ensure that written operating, alignment and emergence procedures are available for all class IIIb and IV laser facilities.

Ensuring that all personal protective equipment is available and worn in compliance with the laser safety program.

Ensure and coordinate medical surveillance of class IIIb and IV laser operators.

Ensure that outside groups and individuals adhere to the SLU laser safety regulations and guidelines.

Ensure that the senior administration is kept aware and current of laser safety matters at SLU.

Ensure that the radiation safety committee is integrally involved in the maintenance of the laser safety program.

To record any and all records related to the above duties into a secure database.

Develop a quality assurance program to document compliance with federal and state regulations.

To keep abreast of new and/or changing regulations at all levels of authority.


Responsibilities Of Registered Laser Operators:

The principle investigator/lab supervisor will ensure the safe use of lasers and laser devises according to the SLU laser safety program. Each laser operator will:

Document their laser training and experience as well as register with the radiation safety office in order to be authorized to use regulated lasers.

Receive and up-date laser safety training appropriate to the class of laser used.

Be physically present and supervise the use of class IIIb and IV lasers when the laser is turned on.

Develop and implement laser safety training for students prior to their using lasers. The names of any persons (including students) who will use class IIIb or IV lasers must be forwarded to the LSO prior to their beginning laser use along with documentation of their laser safety training.

Report any/all accidents involving injury and/or eye exposure as well as any/all incidents involving safety regulation violations to the RSO. After any and all incidents/accidents involving lasers or laser devices, the registered operator will meet with the RSO and RSC prior to resuming use of the laser.

Develop and up-date as necessary, written standard operating procedures (SOP), alignment, and emergency procedures for all class IIIb and IV lasers. Emergency procedures should be prominently displayed in the laser lab and the SOP and alignment procedures should be readily available in the laser lab.

Report any modifications to laser operating procedures or to any lasers (or laser devices) that would potentially affect the safety of use or would change the classification of the laser. This reporting must be done prior to placing the laser back into use.

Register all regulated lasers and Class IIIb and IV laser operators with the RSO/RSC.

Ensure that personal protective apparel is available and worn when appropriate.

Personally escort and supervise all visitors in a laser control area. Spectators should not be present in the Laser Control Area when the laser is turned on.

Individual faculty and staff are responsible for being knowledgeable about laser safety and for the instruction of students on laser safety matters as appropriate.


Laser Standards and regulations:

There are four levels of regulatory activity regarding laser safety issues.

1. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is organized to develop consensus standards for a variety of industries and fields. ANSI has developed several standards pertaining to laser safety:

ANSI Z87.1-1989: Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and
Face Protection.

ANSI Z136.1-2000: American National Standard for the Safe Use of Lasers.

ANSI Z136.2-1997: American National Standard for the Safe Use of Optical Fiber Communications Systems Utilizing Laser Diode and LED Sources.

ANSI Z136.3-1996: American National Standard for the Safe Use of Lasers in the Health Care Environment.

ANSI Z136.5-2000: American National Standard for the Safe Use of Lasers in Educational Institutions.

ANSI/NFPA 70-1996: The National Electrical Code.

Suggested State Regulations for Lasers (SSRL).


2. The Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) is a regulatory body of the Food and Drug Administration within the federal Department of Human Services. CDRH regulates and sets standards for the manufacture of all laser products that are commercially sold.

3. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a regulatory body of the federal Department of Labor that regulates the use of laser products and systems. Laser safety regulations are covered in 29 CFR, compliance standard number 1926.54 on non-ionizing radiation and 1926.102 on eye and face protection. OSHA Directives on laser safety include:


Guidelines For Robotics Safety. OSHA Instruction PUB 8-1.3 (1987, September 21), 5 pages. This document identifies controls that can be used on robotic laser systems.
Guidelines for Laser Safety and Hazard Assessment. OSHA Instruction PUB 8-1.7 (1991, August 5), 70 pages.

Much of the OSHA regulatory code is referenced to the ANSI standards given above.

4. State governments may adopt federal regulations (in which case they are considered "agreement states" even if they pass laws that strengthen federal regulations) or they may adopt their own laws separate from federal code. New York State is an agreement state with most areas of federal regulation.


Laser classification: lasers are classified into 5 classes as follows:

Class I - low power lasers that are incapable of doing biological harm. Examples include laser printers and CD players. There are no regulatory requirements for the use of class I lasers.

Safety regulations should be applied to the remaining classes of lasers and each such laser should have the appropriate warning label attached.

Class II - are less than 1 mW (milliwatt) in power and could possibly cause damage to eyes if viewed directly for adequate duration (> 15 minutes).

Class IIIa - are intermediate power (1-5 mW) continuous wave devices that can damage eye tissue if viewed directly. Many laser pointers fall into this class.

Class IIIb - are also intermediate power (5-500 mW continuous or 10 J/cm2 pulsed) devices that are hazardous to the eye upon direct viewing as well as when viewing diffused or reflected beams. Some laser pointers are in this class as are lasers used in spectroscopy and entertainment light shows.

Class IV - are high power (>500 mW continuous or > 10 J/cm2 pulsed) devices that can damage many tissues that come into contact with the direct beam as well as reflected or diffused emissions. This class includes lasers used for surgery, research, cutting, welding and drilling.


Applicability to St. Lawrence University:

The SLU physics department has an inventory of numerous lasers (including several class IIIa, and IIIb lasers). There are an unknown number of laser pointers in use on campus. The entertainment use of lasers by groups invited to campus is also a potential source of safety liability for the institution.

Scope of the laser Safety Program:

The laser safety program should not be onerous or inhibitory to the educational use of lasers on campus. Instead, like the radiation safety program, it should facilitate the safe use of lasers.

Class II lasers are relatively weak sources and rarely pose an accidental risk of injury. Class II lasers and laser devices need NOT be registered with the RSC/RSO. However, they should never be pointed into the eye. Class II laser devices including some laser pointers often do NOT have a laser warning label attached to them. Other devices such as lasers used in science laboratory situations should have a warning label affixed that reads "Do NOT stare into the Beam."

The laser safety program procedures shall apply to the procurement, maintenance, disposal, and use of Class IIIa, IIIb, and IV lasers. The following guidelines and policies apply to these devices.

Inventory: All class IIIa, IIIb, and IV lasers and laser devices must be registered with the RSC/RSO for inventory data keeping. These laser devices will have the appropriate laser warning label affixed as required by federal regulation. A laser inventory/registration form may be obtained from the radiation safety office or from the radiation safety internet site.

Acquisition: Class IIIa laser devices may be procured by anyone without prior RSC/RSO approval. Such devices must still be registered as described above.

All class IIIb and class IV lasers and laser devices must be procured with the assistance of the RSC/RSO. A laser procurement form must be filed with the RSO prior to ordering the device. This form may be obtained from the radiation safety office or printed from the RSC internet site. Data to be recorded on this form will include:

Name, address, phone number of vendor.
Make and model (part) number of the device (if applicable).
The type of laser (e.g., diode, HeNe, etc.)
The wavelength of light emitted in nm.
Class and output power (range) in watt or milliwatt, continuous and pulsed.
Name, campus address and phone number of person procuring the device.
Date of form submission.
Location of intended use and storage of the device.

This form will also serve as the basis of initial registration of the device. Once the device is received on campus, the serial number shall be indicated to the RSO so as to complete the registration/inventory.

Decommissioning: If a class IIIa, IIIb or IV laser device is taken out of service for any reason, it must be reported to the RSO and be indicated on the inventory as being decommissioned. Reasons for removal from service include the sale, theft, auctioning, disassembly or throwing out in the trash. Class IIIb or IV laser devices should not be discarded in a functional state unless they are purveyed to a person or institution with a compliant laser safety program.

Faculty-Staff Training: All persons who operate a class IIIb or IV laser device must register with the radiation safety office and shall complete a laser safety training information form. This form (available from the radiation safety office) will document any formal laser safety training or operational experience of the registrant. The RSO may exempt registrants from formal safety training requirements if there is enough documented use experience and demonstrated familiarity with laser safety guidelines. The RSO may also recommend additional training prior to approving laser operation. Operators of all class IIIa, IIIb lasers (other than laser pointers) should have basic laser safety training while operators of class IV lasers should have advanced training. This training can be coordinated through the radiation safety office.

Student Training: Students who participate in laser experiments in university teaching or research laboratories must receive appropriate laser safety training either by the registered operator or by the RSO.

Students using Class II or IIIa lasers should be briefed on the hazards of direct beam viewing.

All individuals (instructors and students) working with class IIIb and IV lasers shall receive training which reviews the following topics (minimally):

Fundamentals of laser operation and characteristics of laser light.
Biological effects of laser light on the eye and skin.
Standard operating and alignment procedures.
Laser protective equipment.
Laser signs and labels.
Emergency procedures.


Inspections: All class IIIb and IV lasers and their supporting facilities shall be inspected by the RSO (or designee) prior to placing new devices into service and periodically thereafter. The inspections will pertain to quality assurance of and adherence to the laser safety program. All operators must report any changes or modifications to laser devices or facilities that could affect the safety of laser operation. The device and/or facility must then be inspected and approved by the RSO prior to their continued use. A safety inspection may be requested by anyone who works in or otherwise occupies space in proximity to a laser or laser facility.

Eye examinations: Persons who routinely operate class IIIb and IV lasers shall have an annual eye examination. This can be arranged privately or through the radiation safety office. The baseline eye exam shall include an ocular history, an Amsler grid test, and a visual acuity test.

Incidents: Any and all incidents or accidents that result in exposure to laser radiation above the maximum permissible exposure must be reported immediately to the RSO and the University health center. As an added precaution, any direct exposure to the eye(s) with any class IIIa, IIIb or IV laser should be reported immediately as well. The registered operator and the RSO will investigate and prepare a consensus written report of the incident or accident and submit the report to the president of the university. After any/all incidents/accidents the registered laser operator will NOT resume the use of the laser until meeting with the RSO and RSC.


Laser safety control guidelines:

The following guidelines apply to all class IIIa, IIIb, and IV lasers and laser devices.

NEVER direct a laser beam into the eye. This is referred to as intrabeam viewing and it has the potential to damage the eye. Diffusive viewing happens when the laser beam strikes a rough object and the beam is scattered or diffused. Specular viewing happens when the beam reflects off an object and is not diffused. This beam retains its energy and can do as much damage as the intrabeam viewing.

Caution labels must be affixed to the housing of the device. Labels indicating the output energy and wavelength of the laser should also be attached.

Appropriate personal protective equipment must be worn by all persons capable of receiving laser radiation exposure. All eyeglasses must meet laser safety criteria.

The protective housing of the laser device must not be removed except by qualified service personnel during service or repair. This housing must be interlocked so as to prevent laser operation when the housing is opened or removed. If the interlock can be bypassed, it should done only after others in the area have been warned of the potential exposure hazards.

Appropriate beam blocks and stops must be employed.

Laser beams must never be directed at persons.

Each laser lab shall have appropriate warning placards prominently displayed at each entrance.

Lasers shall be operated in well lit conditions (when appropriate) so as to reduce the eye pupil diameter, thus reducing the risk of exposure to the retina.

Jewelry and other potentially reflective items shall not be worn in laser use areas.


The following guidelines apply to all class IIIb and IV lasers and laser devices, but not to class IIIa devices.

A written standard operating procedure (SOP), alignment procedure, appropriate safety procedures and emergency procedures will be produced for each class IIIb or IV laser or laser device. The latter two procedures should be posted prominently in the laboratory.

Any housing or service panel interlocks that are possible to bypass or otherwise defeat must be labeled as defeatable and dangerous.

The laser or laser device must be controlled by a master switch that is operated with a key or a combination panel. Security must be such that only the registered operator(s) or the RSO can access the master control switch.

Beam paths, when possible, should be totally enclosed so as to prevent any accessible radiation exposure. If total enclosure is not possible or practical, the laser must only be operated in a specific Laser Control Area. If a laser control area must be used, the following compliance items must be adhered to:

The laser control area must be under the direct control and supervision of the registered operator when the laser beam is turned on.

The area must be posted with appropriate warning signs.

The beam must terminate on an appropriate beam stop that is non-reflective and fire resistant.

A warning light or sound must indicate when the beam is on.

The beam must be directed in a manner such that it is greater than 6.5 feet or less than 3.5 feet from the floor. This minimizes the potential risk of direct eye exposure for persons standing or sitting in the laser control area.

Window, doors and all other openings to the laser control area must be blocked so as to prevent the beam from traveling beyond the control area.

Spectators are not allowed in the Laser Control Area when the laser is in operation.


Policy pertaining to entertainment company and or performers using laser light displays:

Any company, vendor, or performance group that intends to use class IIIb or IV lasers or laser devices must adhere to the following guidelines:

The SLU faculty or staff member who is responsible for bringing the outside group to campus must determine whether the lasers to be used are of class IIIB or IV.

If the lasers are in one of these classes, the RSO must be informed prior to the scheduled date of the display or performance.

The outside group must provide the following information to the RSO prior to coming to campus:

Name(s) of laser operator
Statement of operator training
Inventory of lasers and beam data (wavelength, milliwatts, etc.)
Emergency and safety procedures

Prior to the display-performance, the laser operator will meet with the RSO and a representative of the SLU security staff to explain the details of the show. During the time of alignment, the operator will demonstrate the laser effects at full power. If the RSO decides that any laser effect is unsafe, the operator must agree to omit the effect from the display-performance.