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Optical Shop Safety: Awareness and Administration

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An expert in the field introduces the most common hazards and pitfalls – and what to do about them.

Although governmental regulations and guidelines from professional entities exist and certainly should be consulted, they do not address all the unique situations found in any particular optical shop. As a result, each company develops its own blend of organizational responsibilities, the structure of its assurance and measurement programs, and the content and presentation of its training programs addressing safety awareness and proper behavior.

Is the optical shop really such a dangerous place? Consider for comparison the many dangers in your own home, where the many hazards include pesticides, bleach, knives, boiling water, electricity, unsecured shelving, open flames, slippery tile and stairways. The typical optical shop is not much more dangerous than that. Without some orientation, however, you are unlikely to be as familiar with, or even recognize, all the hazards. Comprehensive training, proper facilities, safeguards and personal protective gear can mitigate any danger.

Overview of hazard types

Here is a simple list of the types of hazards, with several examples of each. Future installments of this column will explore these in greater detail.

• Electrical: machinery, coating chambers, lasers, extension cords.

• Chemical: acute or chronic tissue, organ or genetic damage; intoxication or toxicity by ingestion, contact or inhalation; adverse chemical reactions.

• Mechanical: bodily entanglement, cuts, machinery ejecta.

• Lifting and dropping: heavy items and unstable or undesirable geometries.

• Slips and falls: wet or oily surfaces, cramped spaces, clutter.

• Burns: torches, ovens, melted pitch, heated tooling and components, laser beams.

• Cuts: razor blades, saws, broken glass.

• Radiation: x-rays, UV and IR light, radionuclides.

• Sound: high volumes from machinery and compressed air, public address systems, ultrasonic cleaning baths.

• Personal medical emergencies: recognition and response to stroke, seizure, cardiac arrest, choking, chemical toxicity.

• Unexpected events: fire, smoke, explosion or spills, potentially requiring evacuation.

• Local environmental situations: earthquakes, forest fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes.

• Confined spaces

Responsibility and liability

Individuals are responsible for their own safe and judicious behavior. Management is responsible for creating, empowering, documenting and maintaining an effective safety program. This program must encompass safety awareness and procedural training for all employees, provide a safe workplace and appropriate personal protection for the workers, share information and cooperate with first responders, inform and control visitors, and maintain safeguards for the community.

To the extent that the business fails to do this, it is liable for regulatory fines and workers’ compensation; it also could experience forced shutdowns or face litigation.

Structure of the safety system

The most important consideration when designing an optical shop safety program is that it be appropriate to the size of the facility, the type of work performed and the management structure. These factors may change over time, of course, and periodically should be revisited. While a “canned” program or one adapted from another company could fill in many of the blanks, it would have to be thoroughly reviewed and compared with the conditions at hand; the people involved must fully accept the final product as their own.

A fume hood for nonreactive materials contains and removes vapors from work areas.

At a minimum, top management must sign a statement claiming responsibility for the program and identifying safety as the goal of management policy. This signed statement should be prominent in printed instructional handouts.

System development and administration may be delegated to the human resources department and activities assigned to a designated safety committee. This team should include hourly employees who freely volunteer and who share peer communication with those who see and face the risks. The group also should get help from subject matter experts familiar with the technical issues in each area and should coordinate with the various outside authorities.

Safety committee activities

The duties of the safety committee include the following:

• Holding periodic meetings.

• Conducting audits and tours.

• Ensuring and documenting training with certifications and renewals.

• Producing incident reports with corrective actions.

• Reviewing and approving corrective actions and documentation.

• Scheduling rehearsals and conducting surprise drills.

• Meeting with outside agencies.

• Keeping top management cognizant of its activities through periodic reports.

• Immediately reporting any incidents, accidents, injuries, noncompliance or lack of cooperation as well as issues or concerns with the program itself.

• Maintaining an emergency response team with training in first aid, CPR and any situations special to the workplace.

The hazard communication station makes MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) books, safety policies and instructional materials available in a common area. Subsidiary of II-VI Inc. Special thanks to Bruce Glick.

Facilities and safeguards

The facility should incorporate automatic fire sprinklers, well-marked extinguishers, audible and visible alarms, adequate and visible exits, emergency lights, first-aid kits and warning signs. Detectors for hazardous indications, including carbon dioxide, smoke, volatiles and radiation, should be placed appropriately. Local or temporary hazards should be mitigated with electrical lockouts, machine shields, kill switches, emergency showers, eyewashes, cylinder restraint and dollies, fume hoods and so on.

PPE (personal protective equipment)

Workers should be provided, as appropriate, with laser goggles, safety glasses, face shields, aprons, safety shoes, gloves, masks or respirators, earplugs or earmuffs, and hard hats.


Required documentation should be specific to potential hazards and provide more general policies and plans. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all substances used in the facility should be available in a common area. MSDS for all substances used in the shop are available from the supplier. These standardized forms include the description, ingredients, procedures for transportation, spills and waste disposal, health effects and first aid, chemical reactivity, fire and explosion data, and more.

Locations of hazardous materials should be clearly marked. Emergency eyewashes and showers must be nearby and unobstructed. Photographs by permission of VLOC.

A site map with evacuation routes should be posted at key locations. Management, safety committee members and line supervisors should have a site map that includes evacuation routes and locations of hazardous materials; a list of personnel cognizant of, and responsible for, each type of situation (including contact information); plus scripts for emergency announcements and phone calls. All of this information should be filed with any first responders.

The human resources department should keep training records. Copies of approved procedures for properly shutting down, securing and safeguarding equipment during power failures or evacuation should be available to line supervisors.

Facility safeguards and maintenance records of equipment should be documented and periodically reviewed.


Websites such as and provide links to a range of information spanning regulations, personal health, educational presentations and regional disaster preparedness.

Coordinated efforts

A noteworthy example of the need for businesses to coordinate with public safety officials was the 1985 engine failure and crash of a Navy F-8 into the Sorrento Valley business park in San Diego. With skill and heroism, the pilot used the last bit of hydraulic pressure to guide his plummeting plane between buildings before ejecting at less than 200 feet.

The blast broke windows, overturned cars and started a fire. An adjoining high-tech company had flammable, toxic and radioactive chemicals on-site. Firefighters needed speedy access, but with only one road in and a crowd-attracting black cloud rising in view of the nearby freeway, the California Highway Patrol and San Diego police had to clear the way from curious onlookers. The Navy “may have” had high explosives or classified hardware on the plane, so it had a compelling interest in controlling access to the scene and communicating with first responders.

Because the fire department was already aware that the high-tech company had dangerous materials on-site, it evacuated 10 surrounding buildings. This went smoothly because all businesses had evacuation plans. As a result of procedures developed beforehand – through adequate training, strategic collaboration and open communication lines – tragedy was avoided and losses minimized: One unlucky person standing in a nearby phone booth suffered burns, but no one else was hurt.

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2013
chemicalsSensors & DetectorsWorkforce of Tomorrow

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