From: Steve Anderson
Subject: lasers and safety

lasers and safety 10:05 AM 12/28/96

This is probably more URL's here than anyone really wants to know about laser safety.

I have experience with the initial implementation of the BRH (nee CDRH) laser safety variances for a variety of laser equipment at Coherent; HeNe, Class IV Ar, Kr, bar code scanners, medical, and light show scanning products. My "nite job" company is currently bringing the laser show system at Belz Mall in Las Vegas (two 20 watt argons, the "bad boy" re: aerial displays) up to CDRH standards. At Sonoma State U. we have a 5 watt argon system operated by the students for spectroscopy which involves passing a laser safety course to become a certified operator, similar to the x-ray generator and neutron source. It is true we can "skate" by being a state institution and using our own guidelines, but the Health & Safety office insists on tighter-than-normal safety procedures to avoid liability issues.

They have relaxed the Class I and II restrictions, but now everything over 5 mw is probably Class III or IIIb. It especially irritates me the way they label a 5 mw as "not to exceed 10". One amusing anecdote I remember is when they put in the two-second time delay before turn-on,... the first day the new "safe" lasers went out we had a series of eye exposures more than the total of the previous two years from people looking down the tube to see why it didn't come on right away, so,... safety is a many-factored issue. I have a photo-coagulation scar in my right eye with which I can make pilot lights blink in a dark room. ;-)

The key is the Class I limit. If you are seeing any splotches of scattered light, or back reflections from a lens, etc., put a power meter on it. If it is moving, you must use an energy meter. The trick is to stay .5 mw or less, which is not hard if it is spread out. A back reflection (not spread out) from a 5 mw off of a microscope slide is probably over the limit. To get retinal degradation from radiation of this amount you must stare at it for a half hour or so. If you see a green after-image (or red, if it is a green laser) after an exposure, you are probably OK. We are having a controversy now because the (nuclear) Radiation Safety officer does not want to be hassled with EMF complaints about magnetic fields coming from monitors, etc., and so, is giving over those responsibilites to a non-ionizing radiation safety officer. One thing to watch out for in lecture hall displays (which we use 5 mw lasers usually projecting onto a screen) are the tall chrome lab faucets. These will send out a line of light that is over the Class I limit if you hit them with a beam. They act like cylindrical mirrors.

I am getting ready for the First Nite New Years show, in Santa Rosa, CA, where we will be using a 5 watt argon aerial display. If it is raining they won't be able to do the fireworks! agh!

Happy New Year !, Steve Anderson

The world's largest manufacturer of lasers for science, medicine, entertainment and micromachining...

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Steve Anderson, Equip. Tech. III            "change is the only constant"
Physics & Astronomy Dept.                    (707) 664-2330
CSU Sonoma State University