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Laser Safety

Hi I'm Jill, Chief Safety Officer with Vivid Learning Systems. I'm a former OSHA inspector and I'm here to help you identify and correct workplace safety hazards.

For this series we're at the University of Louisville in beautiful Kentucky to show you no matter where you work, safety is for everyone.

How often do you think about the lasers in your life and where do we find them at work? We might find them in welding situations, cutting, edging, diagnostic imaging, even in the entertainment industry and also at universities, which is where we are today. At the University of Louisville and I happen to be with Sarah Hughes who is the laser safety training officer here on the campus and I'm wondering could you just tell us, what is a laser and what would you use one for?

Okay, so laser actually is an acronym for light amplified by stimulated and emitting radiation. Okay. If you think about regular light source like a light bulb, it's made up of all different wavelengths in all different colors but it's actually the white light that you see and it disperses a whole lot from the origin of the source. So as a light bulb comes out the light goes really fast disperses out quite a bit. In a laser, it's not what you normally see in nature it's very concentrated it's very focused it's made of its monochromatic. I mean there's a there's only one wavelength and one specific color to it and we can focus it and they can use it in different things, like you said and welding and research and things like that.

Did you talk to us about what this laser is used for here on campus? We have quite a few lasers on the campus for research. This one specifically is actually the light source for a two-photon microscope and it splits the laser itself into two different to a microscope here and here it's actually a very high energy they use they have beam blocks to contain it itself they have these walls here to absorb any energy. Is actually used for imaging biological tissues. So I understand there's different types of lasers in fact there's four different classes of lasers can you maybe tell us just a little bit about each of the four classes? So classes one and two are your lower powered lasers and they're mostly exempt from any controls that are that should be required.

I'm your class 1 lasers are like your laser printers and are varying they're enclosed. They really don't pose any risk. Now your class 2 lasers again are still they're more like your range finding equipment, your laser pointers. Okay. Okay, so they can't cause put into a little bit of damage if you look at them too much, however your natural reaction is to look away or blink. Sure. And so that's kind of your self regulating for them. Okay.

Class three, there's 3a and 3b there about maybe a more little immediate intermediate powered lasers. Your class 3a are your pointers and scanning equipment things like that. They do potentially cause a little bit more of a risk so you might want to start looking at wearing laser eyewear and things like that. Class 3b is your again a little more intermediate higher powered laser. This is spectroscopy and your entertainment lighting everybody sees the entertainment light shows things like that, so when you're looking using those directly you don't want to look directly into light and at that point you if you're working with anything you need to start thinking about equipment personal protective equipment things like that.

Class four is your highest powered lasers like that what they're using in some research. Right. Here think about welding, cutting, drilling equipment, things like that. So that type of thin is really where you the big risks are. You need to think about your regulations, how to use it safely. It also could cause a fire hazard depending on the target that you're looking at. If you think about like welders and what they're working with.

Now what sort of injuries could occur to an employee with a laser? Basically eye injuries and thermal injuries. So if you look too directly into a laser you can potentially cause temporary or permanent blindness reactions to that are really watery eyes getting a headache things like that so and also thermal injuries which you can cause burns. If you think about a welder that uses lasers I mean obviously they have to wear a lot of safety equipment things like that or so you have to be mindful of those kind of kind of things.

So how do laser hazard how can you go about controlling laser hazards? Well we kind of have three different controls. Administrative controls which are basically just one letting everybody know there's laser in here. We have a sign outside the door denoting that there's a laser in this room. So restricting access. And then your standard operating procedures, knowing how to use the laser, not knowing how to use it safely and then you've got your engineering controls which are behind you. There's a curtain there's, the curtains that they use so that if there's any reflections off the laser that it's stopped into the room. There's beam stops for the lasers there's other. This is actually cardboard that's blacked out so if it absorbs any of the energy so it's not bouncing around the room things like that, and then you have your personal protective equipment so like in this lab anytime they're using the laser they always wear the eye protection. The biggest thing with eye protection is that not all safety glasses are the same when it comes to lasers. Lasers come in all different kinds of energies so you want to make sure that you have the same the correct eyewear for that energy of your laser. Correct shade the correct shape for things like that.

Oh yeah very good interesting so what would be some of the key safety training elements that you'd want to share with employees about lasers? Well you want to talk about just laser itself and how it works. The biological effects of laser so they're that they're aware of the risks that can happen. Okay and then your standard operating procedures. How to use it safely, what controls you have in place to keep it to keep it safe and to make sure that they're not moving things. Like for example this laser itself here one of the procedures they have is the laser and when in use is actually invisible so you can't tell where it is so prior to using it they can put it in a visible light spectrum so they turn it on they can see make sure that it's moving horizontally it's it hasn't changed it's not scattering anywhere before they turn it on properly. So it's things like that that need to be specific to the laser you're working with.

Yeah very good interesting thank you sir I really appreciate you sharing this information with us today. So remember all of the different elements the four different kinds of lasers that you can have available in your workspace and the important measures to take with administrative controls engineering controls and of course personal protective equipment.

I hope you gained a safety skill today. If you know someone who needs this go ahead and pass it on.

Safety is everyone's business.