What is a laser safety officer and when is one required?

Your lasers fulfill important duties at work and you know there are safety rules that apply. You may be wondering if someone should be specifically hired to evaluate and control the laser hazards in your organization.

We describe here what is a laser safety officer and what their tasks and responsibilities are. You will also learn when a laser safety officer is required. Put on your safety glasses!

What is a laser safety officer?

First of all, there are international and national standards for safety guidance providing a frame of work to anybody aspiring to make a laser setup safe. The International Electrotechnical Commission gives us the 60825-1 standard and the Laser Institute of America publishes the ANSI Z136 standards.

According to the ANSI standard ANSI Z136.1 "Safe Use of Lasers", a laser safety officer (LSO) is an individual designated by a company, university or governmental institution, who has the responsibility to monitor the safe usage of lasers in a work environment by defining the proper control measures according to the different levels of laser hazards.

This person also has the authorization to enforce these measures in the work environment effect, thanks to his/her knowledgeable evaluation and control of said laser hazards.

Typically, they may be engineers or environmental health physicists (EHS) with experience in the field of laser measurement and applications, but also with management skills. They can be hired either as full-time or part-time employees, or consulted as external resources depending on the workload and types of laser installations: permanent laboratories, expanding production site, mobile events, etc.

Specific duties and responsibilities of laser safety officers are listed under Appendix A of the ANSI Z136.1 standard. It includes:

  • The establishment of a laser safety program;
  • Classify or verify the classification of lasers/laser systems;
  • Approve standard operating procedures;
  • Implement control measures to evaluate hazard in work areas;
  • Recommend/approve laser protection equipment;
  • Assure that proper laser safety training is provided;
  • Perform laser safety audits;
  • Perform medical examinations and investigate accidents.


They keep record of all those, and manage team members that may be taking some of the responsibilities listed above along the LSO.

Bill Janssen, Certified Laser Safety Officer at LaseResources.com explains:

“In the event of a suspected exposure or actual laser-induced injury the LSO may also advise an ophthalmologist of recommended examination protocols (per Appendix F1 Medical Referral Following Suspected or Known Laser Injury) with regard to the exposure wavelength, emission characteristics, exposure situation and ocular injury mechanisms.”

When they meet specific eligibility requirements laser safety officers may become a Certified Laser Safety Officer (CLSO) certified according to the Board of Laser Safety requirements; although these are not mandatory to become one.

The Laser Institute of America also provides courses and conferences such as the International Laser Safety Conference, which is tailored to the needs of individuals and organizations looking to implement a successful laser safety program.

When is a laser safety officer required? Do I need one?

Manufacturers of lasers and products that contain lasers must fulfill specific Laser Product Performance Standards (FLPPS) when releasing a new product on the market, such as required by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health in the United States. They need to make proper design and measurements to define what category suits the laser i.e. CDRH Class 1, 2a, 2, 3a, 3B or 4.

Per ANSI Table 1-1 Class 1, Class 1M, Class 2, Class 2M and Class 3R lasers do not generally require to designate a laser safety officer permanently for their operation and maintenance, but there are still recommendations applicable to lasers within these specific classes (note: there are slight differences between laser classifications in compliance with ANSI Z136, FLPPS and IEC60825).

 

 

Committed organizations systematically have someone designated for safety evaluations and building the training program of the users of Class 3B or Class 4 lasers, may it be when taking delivery of a new laser, the operation, maintenance and service of those. In this article you will find what are the specific safety requirements for a Class 3B and 4 lasers.

Per ANSI:

“…In any case there shall be a designated LSO for all circumstances of operation, maintenance, and service of a Class 3B or Class 4 laser or laser system…”

Per ANSI Z136.1-2014 sections 4.4.2.7.1 Fully Open Beam Path (Class 3B or Class 4) and 4.4.2.7.2 Limited Open Beam Path (Class 3B or Class 4) edited:

“…In applications of Class 3B or Class 4 lasers or laser systems where the beam path is confined by design to significantly limit the degree of accessibility of the open beam, a hazard analysis shall be effected by the LSO. The analysis will define the area where laser radiation is accessible at levels above the appropriate maximum permissible exposure (MPE) and will define the appropriate control measures in that area. The LSO shall establish controls appropriate to the magnitude and extent of the accessible radiation…”

The ANSI Z136 and IEC 60825-3 standards provide maximum permissible emission levels (MPE) and accessible emission limits (AEL) for UV, visible, near-infrared and far-infrared laser wavelengths. It is the responsibility of the laser safety officer to develop a laser hazard analysis evaluation, provide training to colleagues and clients on safe practices with the laser even at low power, tell what laser safety goggles and curtains are required (among others), install laser safety labels in the work space as well as on the equipment and define authorized laser personnel; Individuals approved by management to operate, maintain, service, or install laser equipment.

LSOs also calculate nominal hazard zones (NHZ) for diffuse reflections, lens-on-laser, fiber optic and intrabeam viewing conditions, define temporary Class 4 enclosure around lasers when technicians need to work in intrabeam condition for maintenance, and generally provide calculations of the maximum levels of accessible radiation during operation, maintenance and service. They will also list where the equipment is located and when maintenance was last performed.

The duties of a laser safety officer can take place beyond the frame of work of closed laboratories. If you want to know how your eyes are kept safe during laser light shows and concerts, this article is for you.

Whether they need to verify that the MPE is properly contained with lasers used out there just for fun or make sure that maintenance of high-power welding lasers stations in the automotive industry is done safely, they also recommend to operators how to perform high-precision measurement with accurate, standard-traceable and easy to move laser power meters. They also take direct measurements that are used to supplement a laser hazard analysis.

Bill Janssen also explained to us how he prepared a Laser Hazard Analysis that he:

“recently completed during an onsite ANSI compliant workplace laser safety audit. This analysis is a part of my overall workplace laser safety audits, surveys and inspections as defined in ANSI A1.2 LSO Specific Duties and Responsibilities. The highlighted areas within this report define key analysis findings that will then support the development and implementation of appropriate control measures for the overall workplace laser safety program.”

International standards give us the limitations that apply when we use lasers. It is then the responsibility of laser users to keep people safe and ensure the equipment is functioning accordingly.

In case of an accident involving a laser followed by a proper investigation concerned with determining liability and workmen compensation for medical treatment, having a laser safety officer in place is the best guaranty to provide a valuable reporting structure for known or suspected harmful exposure.

A day at work

We also had the chance to interact with Eddie Ciprazo, laser safety officer at University of California, Berkeley. We are glad to feature insights from a direct LSO perspective.

How would you describe a typical day at work?

At UC Berkeley, there are over 90 faculties and over 600 researchers/students using over 400 Class 3B and Class 4 lasers in the laser safety program. Additionally, there are other nonionizing sources that are under the purview of the laser safety officer.

I prioritize my day based on items that were left over from the previous day, to new arising issues and documentation.

How do you split your time between yearly routine evaluations and on-demand safety analyzes?

At UC Berkeley, all lasers used in facilities within the laser safety program are inspected annually. This takes considerable time because part of the inspection process includes reviewing and updating laser usage, personnel records, updating internal records, and sending the findings of our inspection to the appropriate individuals. 

Regarding on-demand analysis, at a large university such as UC Berkeley, research is never static and the laser safety officer’s job is to be readily available on short notice to assist campus clients and their needs.  

How do you split your time between actual measurement work in the lab and documentation writing (reporting/recommendations)?

As with any safety program, documentation is a key and necessary component. I, along with the Deputy LSO spend a great deal of time documenting (including updating our internal laser safety database) rather than performing actual beam measurements. 

We do have a portable laser power meter available for use and will use it as needed to assess Class 3B lasers output.

Conclusion

Do not jeopardize security at work! Safety first. Use a laser safety officer services to provide the best frame of work for your employees, lasers and applications.

Lasers is a fast-moving technology. As Eddie Ciprazo would say: “Expertise is also required to support new applications that the regulations and Z136 haven’t imagined yet.”

If you are looking for laser safety guidance and expertise for your needs, please contact us, we will gladly guide you towards the right resources.

Gentec-EO would like to thank Bill Janssen at LaseResources.com and Eddie Ciprazo at University of California, Berkeley for their enlightening participation to this article.

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Félicien Legrand
Technical Sales Physicist
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