Laser Pointer Safety

St. Lawrence University - Radiation Safety

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Laser Pointer Safety Guidelines

Hazards and Warning Labels:

Laser pointers have become widely used as a presentation aid in classrooms or elsewhere. They are more or less common and their use is taken for granted. It should be recognized that these devices pose a potential health risk if used improperly. All lasers and their use is regulated by OSHA and St. Lawrence University has a compliant Laser Safety Program that is administered under the Radiation Safety Program.

Most laser pointers have OSHA classifications of class II or IIIa in terms of their energy output and they are usually continuous wave devices (as opposed to a pulsed laser) that are turned on intermittently by pressing the pocket clip or a button. Class II laser pointers are less than 1 mWatt in power and pose minimum risk. However, these devices could cause damage to the retina of the eye with a long enough exposure directed into the eye (called intrabeam viewing). Class II laser pointer are not required to have a warning label whereas Class IIIa laser pointers are required. This is because class IIIa laser pointers utilize a laser diode and can have up to 5 mWatt of power. These pointers can cause eye damage with a much shorter duration of exposure. Unfortunately, many Class IIIa pointers are NOT labeled with the required warning label because they are manufactured in foreign countries that do not abide by US standards.

Q. How do you know if your unlabeled pointer is class II or IIIa?

A. Read the literature that came with your pointer. It should list the power output. If it is between 1 and 5 milliwatts (mW), then it is a class IIIa device and should have a warning label. If you do not have the literature that came with your pointer, contact the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO, Jill Pflugheber, 5645) and she will assist you in determining the class of your laser pointer. Since most pointers are in class IIIa, it is most probable that an unlabeled pointer is class IIIa. Also, if you recollect any safety instructions that came with the pointer, this increases the probability that it is a class IIIa device.

Laser Registration:

The Radiation Safety Committee (RSC) has decided that laser pointers need NOT be registered with the RSC, but that other class IIIa lasers used in teaching and research at St. Lawrence University must be registered. This is because the latter are of the type that can be turned on and left on for long durations of time, thus increasing their potential for being a health risk. Also, more powerful lasers (class IIIb and IV) may not be used for presentations or otherwise without authorization by the RSO. Even though laser pointers need not be registered, it is University policy that they be used according to the following guidelines.

Guidelines for safely using laser pointers:

NEVER direct a laser pointer beam directly into your eye or another person's eye(s).

NEVER "shoot" anyone with a laser pointer. This is actually against the law in some states. It is considered a form of assault on the basis that some firearms and military weapons have laser-sighting mechanisms and purposely striking someone with a laser beam may be considered by some as targeting them for hostile purposes. Aside from this, such behavior could accidentally direct the laser beam into someone's eye.

Turn the pointer on only when it is pointed toward the presentation screen.

Reflective objects should be kept away from areas of laser pointer use.

Do NOT modify the pointer to stay on continuously.

Do NOT operate a laser pointer with optical aids that could increase the effect of the laser (e.g., microscopes, telescope, binoculars, reflective jewelry, etc.).

Store the pointer in a secure place such that unauthorized use would be prevented.

Do NOT loan your pointer to anyone unless you are sure that they are knowledgeable about laser pointer safety.

Guest speakers who may use laser pointers should be made aware of these guidelines.

REPORT all incidents or accidents to your immediate supervisor, department chair, or to the RSO as soon as possible. Seek medical attention if you suspect injury to the eye(s).

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