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Page last reviewed: 10/01/2008
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Laser Hazards

LASER is an acronym which stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The laser produces an intense, highly directional beam of light. The most common cause of laser-induced tissue damage is thermal in nature, where the tissue proteins are denatured due to the temperature rise following absorption of laser energy.

The human body is vulnerable to the output of certain lasers, and under certain circumstances, exposure can result in damage to the eye and skin. Research relating to injury thresholds of the eye and skin has been carried out in order to understand the biological hazards of laser radiation. It is now widely accepted that the human eye is almost always more vulnerable to injury than human skin.

Laser hazards are addressed in specific standards for the general industry.

Standards

This section highlights OSHA standards, directives (instructions for compliance officers), standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards), and national consensus standards related to laser hazards.

OSHA

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Directives

Standard Interpretations

National Consensus

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

The Z136 series of laser safety standards are voluntary consensus standards that have been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Laser Institute of America (LIA) is the secretariat and publisher of the Z136 series.

  • Z136.1-2014, American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers
  • Z136.2-2012, American National Standard for Safe Use of Optical Fiber Communication Systems Utilizing Laser Diode and LED Sources
  • Z136.3-2011, American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Health Care
  • Z136.4-2010, American National Standard Recommended Practice for Laser Safety Measurements for Hazard Evaluation
  • Z136.5-2009, American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Educational Institutions
  • Z136.6-2005, American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers Outdoors
  • Z136.7-2008, American National Standard for Testing and Labeling of Laser Protective Equipment
  • Z136.8-2012, American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Research, Development, or Testing
  • Z136.9-2013, American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Manufacturing Environments

Construction

For information related to construction, see OSHA's Laser Hazards - Construction page.

Hazard Recognition

The following references aid in recognizing laser hazards in the workplace.

Possible Solutions

The following references provide possible solutions for laser hazards in the workplace.

  • OSHA Technical Manual (OTM). OSHA Directive TED 01-00-015 [TED 1-0.15A], (1999, January 20).
  • Control of Smoke from Laser/Electric Surgical Procedures. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 96-128, (1996). During surgical procedures using a laser or electrosurgical unit, the thermal destruction of tissue creates a smoke byproduct. Research studies have confirmed that this smoke plume can contain toxic gases and vapors.

  • Protection of DoD Personnel from Exposure to Radiofrequency Radiation and Military Exempt Lasers [107 KB PDF, 12 pages]. US Department of Defense (DoD), (2009, August 19). Presents the DoD policy toward laser products that are used exclusively by DoD components and are either classified, or designed for combat or combat training.

  • Laboratory Safety Manual. Oklahoma State University (OSU), Environmental Health & Safety, (Revised May 2012). Laser Safety is covered in chapter 6.

  • Laser Safety. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Division of Research Safety. Covers many aspects of laser safety. Includes a laser safety manual, laser safety online tutorial, and related laser safety web sites.
    • Laser Safety Information. Includes a glossary of terms, laser hazard classification, control measures, and non-beam hazards.
    • Laser Safety Signs. Provides examples of signs to be posted in locations where lasers are in use.

  • Laser Safety Manual. The University of Pennsylvania, Environmental Health & Radiation Safety. Identifies hazards, provides recommendations for proper use, provides for medical surveillance and for laser safety training for individuals using lasers to ensure safe use of lasers in research.

  • Laser Safety and the Eye: Hidden Hazards and Practical Pearls. Lions Laser Skin Centre, Vancouver Hospital & Health Sciences Center, (1996, February 10-15). Links to a poster presentation from the February 1996 American Academy of Dermatology. Covers effects on the eye from laser energy, eye protection, and a list of references.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Training

Other Resources

  • Online Safety Library: Laser Safety. Oklahoma State University (OSU), Environmental Health & Safety. Provides articles, information, and resources.

  • Laser and Optical Radiation. US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (USACHPPM). Supplies links to publications, laser links, and other US Department of Defense (DoD) information.

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