Most types of lasers operating in the visible and near infrared regions are sufficiently intense as to represent a hazard to the eye. Although damage may be caused to all parts of the eyes, the most vulnerable part is the retina, on which the beam may be focussed by the eye lens resulting in the destruction of tissues and the creation of permanent blind spots. High power lasers can also damage the skin.
Laser hazard is identified by classification of the laser (1 to 4, with 3 and 4 posing greater hazard). The class of each laser must be marked clearly by the supplier. Lasers falling into class 3 (either 3R, the lower hazard subdivision of this class, or 3B, the higher hazard subdivision), or class 4 must be registered with the Safety Office. Laser registrations must be accompanied by a risk assessment and a Laser Survey Form.
Safety measures usually concentrate on making the beam path inaccessible, thus preventing exposure. In many applications (i.e. particle sizing, interferometry and Raman spectrometry) the laser will be enclosed. Where research applications with unenclosed high power beams are involved, a mixture of engineering controls, administrative procedures and personal protection will be needed.
Lasers should be operated with as high a background level of illumination as possible to ensure that the pupil of the eye is small and in some cases it may be advisable to wear protective goggles. The goggles to be worn should be appropriate to the wavelength of the laser beam being used.
Care should be taken to check the paths of all possible reflections and if necessary non-flammable opaque screens should be used to protect personnel.
It is important to establish whether the laser used produces a beam in the visible part of the EM spectrum or not. In the case of the latter, personnel may be unaware that they have been exposed to laser radiation unless clear warning is given that the laser is operating.
University Code of Practice for Laser Safety
The key administrative elements:
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