Laser Safety

Columbia university’s Department of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) has developed a laser safety policy which covers registration of newly purchased or modified lasers, safe use guidelines, frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) and training. All laboratory personnel using class 3B and class 4 lasers at any campus of the University are required to attend training.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has established a laser hazard classification system in publication ANSI Z136.1-2014, Safe Use of Lasers. Certified laser manufactures are required to label their products as to the class type. Information regarding appropriate eyewear for a specific laser may be obtained from the manufacturer at time of purchase. The following table summarizes this laser classification scheme and the hazard capabilities associated with each class of laser:

Laser use can create intense concentrations of heat, ultraviolet, infrared, and reflected light radiation. Unprotected laser exposure may result in eye injuries including retinal burns, cataracts, and permanent blindness. An appropriate eye protection must be used at all times when working with lasers. The selection of laser protection should depend upon the lasers in use and the operating conditions.

Beam Hazards

Always protect the eyes from exposure to laser beams. Choose laser goggles with wavelength-specific lenses and opaque non-lens components. Eye exposure is most likely to occur during beam alignment. NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE LASER BEAM.

Glasses showing a red beam aimed at them

Electrical Hazards

Learn rescue procedures for helping victims of apparent electric shock: kill the circuit; have someone call for emergency aid; remove the victim with a non-conductor if he is still in contact with the energized circuit; initiate artificial respiration immediately and continue until emergency medical personnel arrive.

Precautions to take:

  1. Install Ground Fault Interrupters (GFI) in laboratories in which lasers are used.
  2. Provide enclosures to prevent accidental contact with terminals, cables, and exposed electrical contacts. Provide a grounded metal enclosure that is locked/interlocked.
  3. Remove nearby flammable/combustible materials to limit fuel in the event of fire.
  4. Never handle electrical equipment when hands, feet, or body are wet or perspiring or when standing on a wet floor.
  5. With high voltages, regard all floors as conductive and grounded unless covered with a well maintained, dry rubber matting of a type suitable for electrical work.
  6. When possible, use only one hand when working on a circuit or control device.
  7. Avoid wearing rings, metallic watchbands, and other metallic objects.

Other Hazards

Always consider other hazards such as compressed gases, explosion, fire, x-ray radiation, laser dyes and solvents and mechanical hazards. Pay special consideration to ergonomic issues to avoid injury.

Emergencies

Serious eye damage can happen very quickly. If exposure occurs, call CUMC Public Safety at (212) 305-7979 and go directly to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Emergency Room.