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How a ‘Preflight’ Checklist Can Help Launch Your Laser Safety Program

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Pulling useful information out of any standards or regulatory document can quickly become a challenge, and this applies even to those who assist in standards development. As the use of lasers continues to expand into applications outside of university and national laboratory settings, determining which laser safety program elements are necessary — and, more importantly, useful — can engender a ball of confusion (with apologies to the American vocal group, The Temptations) for those new to the role of laser safety officer (LSO).

Startup organizations, in particular, face the dual challenges of balancing their limited resources between commercial development and laser safety. Yet, federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) programs direct firms to comply with ANSI’s Z136.1 Safe Use of Lasers standard, which permits LSOs to modify standard requirements to match the needs of their work environment. Despite this, many LSOs may not feel confident or knowledgeable enough to take advantage of this flexibility.

Courtesy of iStock.com/Jane_Kelly.


Courtesy of iStock.com/Jane_Kelly.

Only ANSI Z136.8 Laser Safety for Research, Development, or Testing contains a program self-audit form (Appendix H, Z136.8-2021). The checklist offers a useful template for LSOs to compare against their current laser safety program, and elements of the checklist are shared here with editorial comments.

Several of the items listed below may seem excessive for some organizations’ laser safety programs. But, together, they offer the opportunity to pause and consider the practices underlying clichéd slogans such as “Safety is job one.”

Laser safety program checklist

Has someone been designated as laser safety officer?
Organizations using Class 3B and/or Class 4 lasers cannot avoid this. But some have found it advantageous to temporarily use an outside consultant. Each division should have both a local LSO and a backup — assuming no one intends to cancel all LSO vacation and sick days.

Does the LSO review new laser installations during the planning stage, and especially during new setups?
Such reviews need not confine their focus to the use of beam tubes or perimeter guards. The reviews should also evaluate questions relevant to the layout of the room: Will laser curtains be needed? Are emergency exits blocked? Does the space need interlocked access?

Is each laser use group assigned its own Laser Safety Supervisor?
The LSO cannot be everywhere at once. So, it helps to have a local person on site who ensures that laser safety and good practices are followed.

Has your organization established a functioning Laser Safety Committee?
This is not a requirement. But with the launch of new programs, such a committee can provide a place for stakeholders to share input and establish good practices. For organizations with multiple divisions, a laser safety committee helps to ensure consistent compliance across locations.

Are laser use areas that operate under Class 3B or Class 4 conditions audited?
Audits should occur at least once a year to help determine whether controls are working or need to be modified. Such audits work best when accompanied by a policy describing how to address problems that are identified.

Has your organization established a laser safety training program for Class 3B and Class 4 laser users?
The design of the training program will need to help determine issues such as testing protocols, what constitutes as “passing,” and how to integrate classroom/online lessons with on-the-job training. It would be wise to further train users on non-beam hazards associated with laser activity. Users should complete training prior to working with lasers and undergo retraining roughly every three years. Training should accommodate the primary language for end users, and it would be beneficial to institute general awareness training for all staff. Lastly, maintenance of training records should be assigned to a particular person.

Has the LSO established a standard operating procedure program?
This is required for Class 3B and Class 4 lasers. End users should sign off on these procedures.

Does your organization’s safety manual include a chapter on laser safety?
The chapter can stand alone or be part of another chapter, but it needs to include more detail than the materials supplied by equipment manufacturers. End users should review the chapter every two years, and tutorial items should be included in the index.

Has the LSO established a ‘Lessons Learned’ program?
If a safety incident occurs, it is important to make sure other users know about it and to take steps to keep the incident from being repeated. Conversely, it is also important to alert other users when good practices are identified.

Are laser use areas clearly identified, and are postings current and according to standards?
The signal word “danger” is only required for kilowatt laser systems. System outputs below a kilowatt simply need a warning sign. Rather than listing a long menu of individual wavelengths, signs can simply indicate that multiple wavelengths are in use and that users should consult with laser operators to determine proper eye protection.

Is there an accident reporting system in effect?
Will staff members know what to do in the case of a suspected incident or how to follow up on corrective action?

Does your laser safety program address non-beam hazards?
Eyewear provides no protection against the risk of electrocution. Users must be aware and trained in non-beam safety.

Do the laser products used meet national product safety codes?
Laser systems with designed-in safety features — such as emission indicators, key control, and housing interlocks — are preferable to those that retrofit safety features prior to sale of the laser.

Does a product compliance group exist for any product sales work?
If so, such a group can save the LSO a great deal of grief.

Does laser equipment have accurate and readable safety labeling?
Text and pictorial labeling designated by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is now allowed.

Is there a laser decommissioning policy?
There are steps required for decommissioning and discarding old lasers. Decommissioned lasers cannot simply be thrown in the trash.

The usefulness of checklists to improve and enforce safety is well established. Their lack sometimes comes at tragic cost to others1. Their value certainly applies to laser safety — either as an internal or external program review.

Meet the author

Ken Barat, operator of Laser Safety Solutions, is a certified laser safety officer (CLSO); email: [email protected].

Reference

1. Boeing (2019). Checklists to enhance safety, www.boeing.com/features/innovation-quarterly/dec2016/feature-technology-checklist.page.

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2021
columnsLasers In Uselaserslaser safety

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