2020 applicants

Lasers and laser pointers safety

The Laser Safety Standard applies to activities using laser products and laser systems as part of the University business that present a significant risk to health and safety. It forms part of the University's Health and Safety PolicyHealth and Safety PolicyHealth and Safety Policy for controlling health and safety risks arising from the use of lasers and compliance with the Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations 2010.

The regulations require the University to protect the eyes and skin of staff and others from exposure to laser beams by eliminating the risk, or reducing the risk to low a level as is reasonably practicable. The standard and its implementation in the University will be periodically audited as part of the University’s health and safety management system.

Other University health and safety standards that may apply:

Roles and responsibilities

In accordance with the Health and Safety Policy, staff and students are required to comply with the Laser Safety Standard. Managers, principal investigators and academic supervisors will be referred to as 'responsible persons' in this standard.

Risk assessment

The responsible person must ensure a suitable and sufficient risk assessment is undertaken for the laser work before it starts and it should be reviewed periodically and updated as the nature of the work changes. The risk assessment outcomes should be communicated to the people at risk.

An adequate risk assessment will cover the lifecycle of the work.

  • Laser installation.
  • Normal operations, including testing.
  • Maintenance and servicing.
  • Emergency and unforeseen circumstance.
  • Relocation and transportation of lasers.
  • Decommissioning.
  • Disposal.

At each stage of the laser work a range of laser and non-beam hazards could be present and cause laser users and others harm. Laser risk assessment templates are available for different laser classes: lower risk lasers class 1M, 2M, 3R and higher risk lasers class 3B and 4. The Association of University Radiation Protection Officers (AURPO) guidance on the safe use of lasers in education and research (.pdf) provides further advice.

If your risk assessment indicates that there is a risk of adverse health effects to the skin as a result of exposure to artificial optical radiation you will need to contact Occupational Health and ensure at risk people are placed under suitable health surveillance.

Guidance for Employers on the Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations (AOR) 2010 – for information on hazardous sources

Guide to laser and non-beam hazards

Laser beam hazards

The light in a laser beam can be hazardous to exposed eyes and the skin. The risk of harm can arise out of direct exposure to the beam or unexpected radiation release due to misalignment of optical components or broken optical fibre.

Depending on the laser’s power output and wavelength it can cause eye and skin tissue to burn (thermal effects), produce damaging chemical reactions (photochemical effects) or physically damage surrounding tissue (acoustic transients). The eye is particularly vulnerable to damage. Injuries can occur at lower power levels than for skin. Cornea damage occur at wavelengths < 315 nm and retinal damage at wavelengths in the range 400 nm to 1400nm. IR radiation 700 nm to 1mm can cause cornea burns and flash burns to the eye. The skin can experience reddening (erythema), accelerated skin aging and increased risk of skin cancer. In some cases IR lasers can burn the skin.

Laser classification and laser class description

Lasers in the UK should be classified and labelled accordingly to the British Standard on Laser Safety, BS, EN 60825-1:2014. The laser class reflects the potential harm it presents if the beam is exposed to eyes or skin. Other countries classify lasers slightly differently to the British Standard and may use Roman numerals. If you are unsure about your laser’s class or it has Roman numerals on the label don’t take unnecessary risks. Seek advice from the departmental non-ionising radiation protection adviser (DNIRPA) or the University non-ionising radiation protection adviser (UNIRPA).

Class 1

The laser power output is below the level at which it is believed eye damage will occur. Some laser products may contain a higher class laser, but will be a Class 1 laser product because under normal operations the higher class laser beam is inaccessible.

Class 1M

The laser beam is more powerful than Class 1. The beam is highly divergent (it spreads out) and only a small amount of the whole laser beam will enter the eye. This class of laser can become dangerous if viewed using a magnifying optical instrument.

Class 2

The laser power output is limited to below 1 milliwatt (mW) and in the visible wavelength range between 400nm to 700nm. A person exposed to the beam will be protected from injury by their own natural aversion response (blink reflex).

Class 2M

The laser beam is more powerful than Class 2 and in the visible wavelength range between 400nm to 700nm. However, the beam is highly divergent (it spreads out) and only a small proportion of the whole laser beam will enter the eye and that will be below 1mW. This class of laser can become dangerous if viewed using a magnifying optical instrument.

Class 3R

The laser power output is limited to below 5mW and the wavelength range is between 180nm to 1mm. Exposure to the beam could potentially cause eye injuries.

Class 3B

3B lasers have a maximum 500mW (half a watt) power output. Hazards arise from direct beam viewing and reflection of the beam. 3B lasers have sufficient power to cause an eye injury.

Class 4

Class 4 lasers have a power output greater than 500mW and there is no upper restriction. They require extreme caution because the direct beam and reflected beam can cause serious eye injury, skin burns and is a fire hazard.

Non-beam hazards

As well as the laser beam hazard, other non-beam hazards are associated with the laser work. Non-beam hazards are grouped into categories. Those most commonly encountered in laser work are:

  • electrical
  • chemical, including fume production
  • mechanical
  • fire
  • x-rays and electromagnetic interference
  • other hazards

Electrical hazards

Potential sources of electrical hazards are high voltage power supplies and laser cavities. For example, a 2kW CO2 laser typically requires three phase supply at 40kW. No electrical work should be carried by unqualified staff. See the University's electrical safety standardelectrical safety standardelectrical safety standard.

Chemical hazards

Sources of chemical hazards in laser work are laser gases, laser generated fume and particulate matter and cleaning fluids. See the University's working with hazardous substances standardworking with hazardous substances standardworking with hazardous substances standard.

Mechanical hazards

This category covers manual handling of laser equipment and auxiliary equipment, noise, hot work pieces, moving parts in machines and guarding. See the relevant University standards and guidance: work equipment safetywork equipment safetywork equipment safety, buying work equipment: health and safety considerationsbuying work equipment: health and safety considerationsbuying work equipment: health and safety considerations, and noise and vibrationnoise and vibrationnoise and vibration. For advice on manual handling risk assessments contact HSAS.

Fire

Class 4 lasers present a fire hazard. Direct and diffuse laser beams from Class 4 lasers can combust materials, especially in oxygen rich environments. See the University's fire safety standardfire safety standardfire safety standard.

X-ray and electromagnetic interference

X-rays can be generated by laser power supplies and by laser radiation interacting with a material. Electromagnetic interference is generated for radio frequency excited lasers.

Other hazards

Registration and records for laser users

The responsible person will identify potential laser users in the risk assessment and ensure they are registered with the department. All people intending to work with any class of laser, except inherently safe class 1 or class 2 devices or embedded products, should be registered. People who could or are going to modify class 1M or 2M devices should be registered.

The department will maintain an up to date record of departmental laser users and have it available to the UNIRPA. A laser user registration form is available from AURPO’s guidance on the safe use of lasers in education and research (.pdf), appendix 2, and a training record form (appendix 13).

You need to identify staff whose health is at particular risk. For example, pre-existing medical conditions made worse by light, use chemicals that could react with light to make effects worse and multiple exposure to light sources.

Training

The head of department should ensure adequate training for all registered laser users and others who may be affected by the work. It is the responsibility of the responsible person to ensure laser users receive appropriate training before work starts. Training for DNIRPA is detailed in the University's health, safety and wellbeing competence and training matrix(.pdf).

All registered laser users should have basic instruction in laser hazards and their control. The basic laser safety training (.ppsx) and basic laser safety session plan (.pdf) can be modified to reflect local arrangements.

Laser training videos produced by the National Physical Laboratory are available for 3B and 4 laser class users. It is recommended that these are shown in addition to the basic training before work starts. 3B and 4 laser users’ training should also include details from the risk assessments, the laser scheme of work and the emergency procedures for their proposed work and area. Training in the individual laser equipment and devices is the responsibility of the responsible person for the laser.

The responsible person ensures appropriate refresher training is given at regular intervals to registered laser users and when there are significant changes in the risk assessment. Advice on training frequency is available from the UNIRPA.

Other users not directly associated with the laser work, but could be affected by the work (for example cleaners, maintenance users, serving contractors, other University staff etc.) identified by the risk assessment require basic laser safety training and information on the control measures relevant to them to ensure their safety whilst carrying out their work.

The department will maintain an up to date training record for departmental laser users and have it available to the UNIRPA. A record of attendance should be made and a training record template is available to AURPO’s guidance on the safe use of lasers in education and research (.pdf), appendix 13, and a departmental laser user register and training record template .(xlsx).

Emergency procedure and incident reporting

If your eyes and skin may have been exposed to a laser beam you should seek medical assistance immediately. You should know the details on where to go and the consultant’s name for specialist medical help. They are available from the DNIRPA or UNIRPA. Emergency details form part of the departmental laser local rules. It is strongly recommended that a laminated emergency notice is kept with each laser and can be taken to hospital. The notice should have the laser output characteristics, instructions on what to do in an emergency, details on where to go and consultant details.

Health and safety incidents involving lasers should be reported as soon as possible to the DNIRPA and the UNIRPA using the University's health and safety incident reporting procedure and formshealth and safety incident reporting procedure and formshealth and safety incident reporting procedure and forms. Health surveillance advice will be sought from the University's Occupational Health ServiceOccupational Health ServiceOccupational Health Service when required and follow-up health surveillance as appropriate.

Management of contractors

Servicing and maintenance of lasers by external contractors needs to be managed by the department. Advanced planning and communication with the contractor is required from the responsible person and the DNIRPA to ensure adequate risk assessments for proposed work takes place. The contractor must submit a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and method statement to the DNIRPA and responsible person for approval. This should be done in reasonable time before the work commences.

It is likely the contractor will need to have a laser controlled area for their work and it is recommended that this should be designated to the contractor for the duration of the work. Transfer of control should be recorded, in writing, to the DNIRPA and include a copy of the contractor’s local rules. The work may require a permit to work. Estate Management Section has advice on permits and when they are required.

Control measures

The responsible person must ensure the risks from the laser work are either eliminated or adequately controlled, are implemented, communicated to those people at risk, monitored and maintained throughout the work. The Guidance on the safe use of lasers in education and research (.pdf) has information on general safety procedures for specific classes of laser and basic risk reduction measures.

Laser local rules

The head of department ensures local rules are developed, in place and reviewed regularly to locally manage the risk from Class 3R, 3B and 4 lasers. The responsible person(s) and the DNIRPA, or DHSO or HSLO where applicable, will develop the local rules, implement and regularly review them in their area of responsibility.

Identification of lasers and laser inventory

Class 3R, 3B and 4 lasers must be identified by the responsible person and recorded on the departmental laser inventory. Updated copies of the laser inventory are kept by the department and available to the UNIRPA. The AURPO’s guidance on the safe use of lasers in education and research (.pdf), appendix 1A is a laser inventory template.

Labelling of lasers

The responsible person should identify lasers with the appropriate hazard warning label, according to the risk they present. AURPO’s guidance on the safe use of lasers in education and research (.pdf), appendix 10 and in section 4. has guidance on what labels are required.

Laser schemes of work

Class 3R, 3B and 4 laser work must have its own laser scheme of work based on the outcomes of the risk assessment. A laser scheme of work template is available from AURPO’s guidance on the safe use of lasers in education and research (.pdf), appendix 5. The current laser scheme of work must be displayed in a prominent position close the work area and readily available to laser users and others who may be affected by the laser work.

Laser controlled areas

A laser control area is a designated area under the responsibility of the department and responsible person where the laser work needs supervision for the purpose of protection from the laser radiation hazards. Class 3B and 4 lasers operate in laser controlled areas. Open beam work for laser classes 1M, 2M and 3R should be carried out in a laser controlled area. Laser control areas are identified by the department and suitable signs put in place. Guidance is available on what labels are required (guidance on the safe use of lasers in education and research (.pdf), appendix 10 and in section 4.6). Only authorised laser users can enter the laser controlled area.

Undergraduate laser use

If reasonably practicable, the lowest class of laser should be used for undergraduate teaching and should be restricted to classes 1, 1M, 2, 2M and visible class 3R.

Undergraduates who want to use class 3B and 4 lasers will be treated as authorised laser users and subject to the normal registration and training process. The responsible person must submit a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and laser scheme of work to the DNIRPA and UNIRPA for approval. This should be done in reasonable time before the laser work commences.

Use of lasers off University premises

Lasers, other than class 1 and 2, must not be used away from the University without the written permission from the head of department. The responsible person must have this permission, a risk assessment and a laser scheme of work and provide it for the DNIRPA and UNIRPA and obtain approval before working off site. It should be done in reasonable time before work starts.

Laser displays and outside laser work on University premises

The responsible person for the display must:

Safety of optical fibre communication systems

Where an optical fibre communications system is being installed as part of the University’s infra-structure the system it should be installed to BS EN 60825-2 safety of laser products, part 2 safety of optical fibre communication systems.

Where such a system is used for research the system should comply with the above. If this is not practicable the system should conform to the section's or departmental local rules.

Laser pointers

A laser pointer, or laser pen, is a small visible laser device designed to highlight something of interest by projecting a small bright spot of coloured light onto it. They are usually portable, low-powered, battery-operated, hand-held laser devices. Laser pointers are commonly designed to look like a pen.

Safe laser pointers

It is strongly recommended that alternative presentation tools are used instead of laser pointers. However, if an alternative method is not possible, laser pointers used in the University must meet the following conditions. You must ensure:

  • the laser pointer classification is Class 1 or Class 2
  • the laser pointer is purchased from a reputable manufacturer or supplier. Higher powered devices can be cheaply and easily bought from the internet and from local retailers. In some cases the actual power output does not correspond with the information provided and can be significantly higher and very dangerous. If you are buying laser pointers for work, refer to the buying work equipment: health and safety considerationsbuying work equipment: health and safety considerationsbuying work equipment: health and safety considerations
  • the laser pointer is not 'home made'
  • the laser pointer has not been modified in any way, for example optics added to focus the beam
  • the laser pointer is only used for presentation purposes

Higher class laser pointers are strictly prohibited by the University because the power output can cause significant eye damage and flash blindness. If the laser class is unknown or it is suspected that it may be greater than a Class 2, do not take unnecessary risks and do not use it. A laser pointer toolbox talk (.pdf) has more information on the harm from powerful laser pointers.

Laser pointers used in a malicious way or used for recreational purposes can present a significant risk to health and safety and is also prohibited. Unsafe laser pointer behaviour must be reported to the UNIRPA using the University's Health and Safety Incident Reporting procedure and formsHealth and Safety Incident Reporting procedure and formsHealth and Safety Incident Reporting procedure and forms.

Advice is available from the University non-ionising radiation protection adviser (UNIRPA) if you are unsure.

How to use it safely

  • Consider an alternative presentation tool or aid.
  • Use laser pointers that are Class 1 or Class 2. The laser pointer should be correctly labelled for the class. See AURPO's guidance on correct labelling for laser devices (Appendix 10) (.pdf). If your laser pointer does not have hazard labels, or you believe the labels are incorrect, do not use the device.
  • Follow the manufacturing safety instructions.
  • Restrict use to the owner only.
  • Store the pointer securely, ideally with the batteries taken out.
  • Carry out a visual check of the room before the presentation to ensure there are no reflective surfaces which might divert the beam back into the audience or towards the presenter, eg. mirrors, chrome fixtures and fittings, white boards.
  • Switch the pointer off and put it down when it is not in use.

Examples of unsafe practice

  • Allowing others to borrow the laser pointer, especially children.
  • Directing the beam towards the audience.
  • Looking into the laser aperture when it is off or on.
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Health and Safety Advisory Service
Telephone: 01206 872944