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Working Safely When Using or Maintaining Lasers

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What Is a Laser?

A laser is a device that generates a highly focused, monochromatic, and coherent beam of light. The light produced by a laser is different from the light produced by a regular light bulb in several ways:

  1. Coherence: The light produced by a laser is coherent, meaning that all the waves of light are in phase with each other and are traveling in the same direction. This results in a very focused and highly directional beam of light.
  2. Monochromatic: The light produced by a laser is monochromatic, meaning that it consists of a single wavelength or color. This is in contrast to regular light, which is made up of a spectrum of different wavelengths and colors.
  3. Intensity: The light produced by a laser is much more intense than the light produced by a regular light bulb. This is because the light waves produced by a laser are highly focused and directional, which allows them to be concentrated into a small area.

Lasers are used in a wide variety of applications, including medicine, manufacturing, military, and research.

Where Can Lasers Be Found?

Lasers can be found in a wide variety of settings and applications. Some common examples include:

  1. Medicine: Lasers are used in a variety of medical procedures, including eye surgery, laser-assisted liposuction, and the removal of tattoos.
  2. Manufacturing: Lasers are used in the manufacturing process for a variety of purposes, including cutting and welding, marking and engraving, and the inspection of materials.
  3. Military: Lasers are used in military applications for range-finding, target designation, and communications.
  4. Research: Lasers are used in scientific research for a variety of purposes, including the study of atomic and molecular physics, materials science, and atmospheric chemistry.
  5. Entertainment: Lasers are used in entertainment for special effects, lighting, and laser shows.
  6. Consumer products: Lasers can be found in a variety of consumer products, such as laser printers, CD and DVD players, and laser pointers.

Who Is This Article for?

This article has been written for users of consumer products as they may be unaware of the safety implications with their use and their maintenance. It is also intended as a refresher for maintenance technicians to remind them of the hazards involved when repairing products that contain laser devices.

This article is not intended for users of lasers for research purposes, in medical environments, the military or for use in laboratories, as these individuals will need to have specific safety training, which is beyond the scope of this article.

This article does not replace formal training and guidance. If in doubt, then you must seek your own professional advice.

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Fibre Optic Cables

Working with fibre optic cables can present several safety issues, including:

  1. Eye injuries: The fibre optic cables themselves are not hazardous, but the lasers or LEDs used to transmit the signals through the cables can be hazardous to the eyes. It is important to use appropriate eye protection when working with fibre optic cables to prevent eye injuries.
  2. Electrical hazards: Fibre optic cables may be installed near electrical power lines or other electrical sources, which can present electrical hazards. It is important to follow proper safety procedures and use appropriate protective equipment when working near electrical sources.
  3. Physical hazards: Fibre optic cables are typically installed in areas that may be difficult to access, such as in ceilings, walls, or underground. This can present physical hazards such as falls, slips, and trips. It is important to use appropriate safety equipment, such as fall protection, when working in these types of environments.
  4. Chemical hazards: Some fibre optic cables may be coated with chemicals or encased in materials that can be hazardous if handled improperly. It is important to use appropriate protective equipment and follow proper safety procedures when handling these materials.
  5. Fire hazards: Fibre optic cables may be installed in areas where there is a risk of fire, such as near heat sources or flammable materials. It is important to follow proper safety procedures and use appropriate protective equipment to prevent fires and injuries.
  6. Cuts: Fibre optic cables may contain glass, which if broken could enter the skin or eyes. Care must be taken not to break fibres and to wear Personal Protective Equipment when terminating fibre optic cables.

Types of Lasers

Lasers are classified into four classes according to how hazardous they are.

It is important to realise that these classifications depend on the accessible power emission level when the laser is in normal use, and not the output power of the bare laser. This means that pieces of equipment labelled as Class 1 may actually contain more hazardous classes of laser. When the covers are removed for maintenance, the degree of care appropriate to the exposed laser must be taken.

it is often the case that the laser radiation is at a wavelength that is not visible to the human eye. It is important to note that lasers that are invisible to the eye can still be harmful and care must be taken when maintaining or using them.

Under no circumstances should optical aids such as hand lenses be used to examine laser equipment.

Laser Classes

There are several classes of lasers, which are distinguished based on the potential danger they pose to humans and the environment. The classes of lasers are based on the wavelength of the laser beam and the maximum power output of the laser. The classes are:

  1. Class 1: This class of lasers is considered to be safe under normal conditions of use. These lasers do not present a hazard because they emit a very low level of laser energy.
  2. Class 1M: This class of lasers is similar to Class 1, but it is intended for use in a manufacturing environment, where the laser beam may be visible to the operator.
  3. Class 2: This class of lasers is considered to be safe under most normal conditions of use. These lasers emit a visible laser beam that is not hazardous to the human eye when viewed directly for short periods of time.
  4. Class 2M: This class of lasers is similar to Class 2, but it is intended for use in a manufacturing environment, where the laser beam may be visible to the operator.
  5. Class 3R: This class of lasers is considered to be potentially hazardous when viewed directly for long periods of time, but the laser beam is not normally hazardous when viewed indirectly. These lasers may cause eye injuries if the beam is viewed directly for an extended period of time.
  6. Class 3B: This class of lasers is considered to be potentially hazardous when viewed directly, and the laser beam may cause eye injuries if viewed directly for even a short period of time. These lasers may also pose a fire hazard if they come into contact with flammable materials.
  7. Class 4: This class of lasers is considered to be extremely hazardous and can cause serious injury or death when viewed directly or when the laser beam is absorbed by the skin. These lasers may also pose a fire hazard if they come into contact with flammable materials.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Mr Singh