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Make Nothing Happen

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2012
Before I get out of bed in the morning, before I can even read the numbers on the clock, I have to put on my glasses. I wear contacts during the day, and if I want to clearly see words on my computer screen, I have to put on my reading glasses, too. But I consider myself lucky that my vision can still be corrected.

Working in a laser lab – or any environment where lasers are in use – without wearing protective eyewear puts you at risk for eye injuries that can damage your vision beyond the help of any glasses or contacts. Imagine getting up in the morning and not being able to see the clock at all, the smile of your spouse or the first robin of spring. Specific data about workplace laser injuries to the eye is not easy to find, but even one such accident is one too many.

Eye injuries may be just the tip of the iceberg where laser accidents are concerned, but they are easily preventable. Still, we receive photos of students and researchers who are not wearing laser safety eyewear, standing close to working lasers and putting themselves at risk. Not only should these photos not be sent out with press releases, they should not even be taken. Even photos staged for the camera should observe appropriate laser safety. It’s about setting an example for students and others new to lasers.

Despite our vigilance, such photos occasionally do get printed in Photonics Spectra. Please don’t think that means we condone the unsafe use of lasers. In fact, to underscore our concerns about laser safety, in this issue we are launching “Lasers in Use,” a column written by people working at the front lines of laser safety.

In “Lessons Learned from a Recent Laser Accident,” Michael Woods, the laser safety officer at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, recounts an incident in which a graduate student was injured while adjusting a polarizing beamsplitter being used with a femtosecond Ti:sapphire laser. His account carries valuable information about the root causes of the accident and the corrective actions taken. Read the column beginning on page 47.

Peter Baker, the executive director of LIA (Laser Institute of America), the professional organization for laser applications and safety, wrote a column called “When Nothing Happens” last year for his organization’s newsletter. In it, he wrote:

“When nothing happens in a laser environment, does it mean that nothing was done? Not at all! If there is no loss of sight, no burned skin, no inhalation of noxious fumes and no electric shock, then it means that a lot has been done.

“It means that the organization with the laser has taken the responsible approach to using it, has appointed a trained or certified laser safety officer, complied with the guidelines set out in the ANSI Z136 series of standards and provided a safe environment with appropriate training for its people. Our laser safety officers do a great job keeping people safe and ensuring that nothing happens. This is an important and underappreciated factor in the rapidly increasing growth of the laser industry.”

LIA has served the industrial, medical, research and government communities for more than 40 years with technical information, training and networking opportunities for laser users from around the globe. Visit it at www.lia.org.

So, what are you doing to make nothing happen in your laser lab? Send us a photo of you and your colleagues exhibiting proper regard for laser safety. We’ll feature the best of them in August as part of Photonics Spectra’s annual list issue.


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