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LASER SAFETY Policies and Procedures

Prepared by:
The LASER Safety Committee

Idaho State University
Campus Box 8106
Pocatello, Idaho 83209

(208) 282-2310

December 20, 2002

Approved  By:
(signatures on file in TSO)

Director, Technical Safety Office

Vice President for Academic Affairs

This document was prepared for use within Idaho State University (ISU).  It is intended for use by, and applies to ISU employees, staff, visitors, and students.  If this document or any portion of it is used elsewhere, neither its authors nor the University accept responsibility for its contents.

Statement of Recognition

This Policy has been adopted in large part from the Purdue University LASER Safety Policy
with permission.

This information may not be used for commercial development or profit.


The purpose of this manual is to provide individuals using lasers information on laser hazards, laser-related policies and procedures, recommendations for the safe use of lasers, and laser safety training.  It has been designed to provide the basis for safe laser use in the research and teaching environment without placing excessive burdens of cost or use restrictions on those responsible for laser operations.  Much of the information contained herein is based on the American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers, ANSI Z136.1-2000 and ANSI Z136.5-2000.  The ANSI standard is the accepted standard for laser safety in the United States.

Many lasers are capable of causing eye injury to anyone who looks directly into the laser output beam, or even at a specular reflection of the beam.  In addition, diffuse reflection of a high-power laser beam can produce permanent eye damage.  High-power laser beams can also burn exposed skin, ignite flammable materials, and cause the release of hazardous fumes, gases, and debris.  Other hazards associated with the equipment and optical apparatus required to produce the lasing action and control the beam can include high-voltage, high pressure, compressed gases, cryogenics, noise, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, and toxic materials.

Despite the potential hazards, laser equipment can be operated safely if the proper procedures and necessary precautions are followed.  To this end, the Idaho State University Laser Safety Committee has adopted this manual.  If you need additional information or assistance, contact the Idaho State University Laser Safety Officer at the ISU Technical Safety Office (TSO), phone 282-2310/2311/3669.


Is my laser dangerous?

Image Not Available
Figure 1.  Laser identification label

I have a class 3b or 4 laser.  What makes it dangerous to me?

I’m new to lasers.  How do I figure out what to be concerned about in my lab?

What is the danger to me?

How do I know how much is too much?

How can I avoid accidental exposure?

Where can I get more laser safety information at Idaho State University?
Laser safety information is available in this booklet, at the website, and through the TSO.

Where can I find out about procedures at Idaho State University?
Procedures for the safe operation of a laser can be found in the next two chapters of this booklet.  In Chapter 2 we discuss safety features that should be designed into the laser and the laboratory, as well as information on procedural and administrative policies.

Procedures at Idaho State University are based on many of the guidelines developed by professional organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  Several sections of the American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers, ANSI Z136.1 and ANSI Z136.5, are referenced in the following sections and are denoted by parenthesis.  The ANSI Standard and other laser safety references are available from the TSO for checkout.


I. Introduction

Control measures for Class 3b and 4 lasers are designed to reduce the possibility of eye and skin exposure to hazardous levels of radiation and to other hazards associated with the laser systems.  The major causes of laser accidents in the laboratory are:

Control measures are classified as engineering control measures (ANSI Z136.1 sec. 4.3) and administrative and procedural control measures (ANSI Z136.1 sec. 4.4 and 4.5).  Engineering controls are those that are incorporated into the laser system and the laser laboratory.  Administrative and procedural controls are methods or instructions which specify rules and/or work practices to supplement engineering controls and may require use of personal protective equipment.  An example of an engineering control measure would be a laser beam stop, and an example of an administrative and procedural control measure would be the SOPs.  When feasible, engineering controls are always the preferred method to provide for safety in a laser laboratory.

Laser controls are designed to ensure skin and eye exposures do not exceed the applicable Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) limit.  The MPE defines the maximum safe exposure without hazardous effect or adverse biological changes in the eye or skin.  The MPE depends upon the wavelength and exposure duration.

An important consideration when implementing control measures is to distinguish among operation, maintenance, and service.  Control measures are based on normal operation of the laser system.  When either maintenance or service is performed, it is often necessary to implement additional control measures.

II. Engineering Controls

Engineering controls for Class 3b and 4 lasers are listed below.  All Class 3b and 4 lasers at Idaho State University are covered by this policy, and should have the listed design features unless otherwise approved by the Laser Safety Officer (LSO).  If the system is purchased in the United States, the system has as part of the design features the controls stated below.  This is often indicated on the laser by a “statement of certification”.

III. Administrative and Procedural Controls

IV.  Class 3b and 4 Laser Controlled Area

A. The area designated as the controlled area for Class 3b laser facilities shall have the following adequate control measures (ANSI Z136.1 sec.

B. In addition to the above control measures for Class 3b laser facilities, the controlled area for Class 4 laser facilities (Figure 2) shall have the following control measures (ANSI Z136.1 sec.
Image Not Available
Figure 2.  Class 4 Laser Controlled Area

V. Equipment Labels

All lasers (except Class 1) shall have appropriate warning labels with the laser sunburst logo and the appropriate cautionary statement (Figure 1).  The labels shall be affixed to both the control panel and the laser housing.

Ancillary hazards shall also be appropriately labeled, but the sunburst logo is not required.

VI. Area Posting Signs

Areas which contain Class 2 or 3a laser systems should be posted with appropriate area postings as described in Figure 3.  Areas which contain Class 3b or 4 laser systems shall be posted with appropriate area postings as described in Figure 4.  Also, the laser controlled area should be indicated with the appropriate warning sign.

Image Not Available
Figure 3.  Area Posting for Class 2 and 3a Lasers

Image Not Available
Figure 4.  Area Posting for Class 3b and 4 Lasers


This chapter was developed to inform supervisors and operators of their roles and responsibilities to help provide a safe laser environment at Idaho State University.


A. Authorization

An employee or student shall not operate a class 3b or 4 laser system unless authorized to do so by the LPI for that laser.  The LPI may give system specific laser safety training, including this document, and grant temporary permission to use the laser, provided that official authorization is completed within 2 months after use of the laser begins.  Individuals are officially authorized to use laser systems upon completing training, demonstrating competency, and submitting an application (Appendix 3).

B. Compliance

All employees and students shall comply with the safety rules and regulations prescribed by the LPI, LSO, and Laser Safety Committee (LSC).  Employees and students shall know the operating procedures applicable to their work.

C. Accident Reporting

All injuries and accidents involving lasers and laser systems shall be reported to the LPI and the LSO.  However, the treatment of injured personnel and the preservation of property shall be the first priority.


A. Prerequisite

The LPI shall know the educational and training requirements, the potential laser hazards and associated control measures, and all OPERATING procedures pertaining to laser safety for lasers and laser systems under the LPI’s control.  Generally the LPI is a faculty member in charge of one’s laser facility.

B. Training

The LPI shall ensure that all laser users under his/her control are trained. Training material should include a broad understanding of hazards and controls for all lasers or all hazard classifications, especially those of class 3b and 4, the biological effects of lasers, the laser classification system, protective equipment, and administrative controls (ANSI Z136.5 sec 5.5.4).

C. Authorized Users of Laser Systems

The LPI shall determine which students and employees are authorized (Appendix 3) to operate a laser system under his/her control.  The LPI may grant temporary permission to use the laser, if system specific laser safety training and this document are provided before use.  Official authorization must be completed within 2 months after use of the laser begins.  Individuals are officially authorized to use laser systems upon completing training, demonstrating competency, and submitting an application to the TSO (Appendix 3).

D. Accidents and Injuries

The LPI shall notify the LSO of known or suspected laser-related accidents and injuries.  The LPI shall ensure that their departmental business office is promptly notified.  If necessary, the LPI will assist in obtaining appropriate medical attention for any employee or student involved in the laser accident.  The LPI shall cooperate with the LSO and/or LSC during the course of their investigation and implement recommendations to prevent a recurrence.  A written incident report shall be prepared by the LPI within 1 month.

E. Approval of Laser System Operation

The LPI shall not permit operation of a new, modified or manufactured class 3b or 4 laser under his/her authority without prior written approval of the LSO or the LSC.

F. Approval of Planned Installations

The LPI shall assure that plans for laser installations or modifications of installations are submitted to the LSC for approval.  The LSO will act as a consultant, in conjunction with Facilities Planning, for the installation of new laser facilities.

G. Operating Procedures

For Class 3b and 4 laser systems, the LPI shall ensure standard operating procedures (SOPs) are developed and provided in order to prevent the operation of a laser if exposure to employees, students, visitors, or the general public could exceed the MPE.  SOPs shall also be necessary for alignment, maintenance and/or service, and emergency response.


A. Policies and Practices

The committee shall establish and maintain policies, procedures, and guidance for the control of laser hazards.  Refer to Appendix 5, Idaho State University President’s Executive Memorandum.

B. Approval of Class 3b and 4 Laser Facility

Approval of a laser or laser system for operation will be given only if the LSC is satisfied that the laser hazard control measures are adequate.  These include standard operating procedures (SOPs), engineering controls for the laser, engineering controls for the laboratory or area, and administrative and procedural controls for the laser facility.  Standard operating procedures for alignment, maintenance and/or service, and emergency response shall be provided as necessary.

Temporary approval for operation can be given by the LSO, who will then seek final approval at the next LSC meeting.

C. Standards

The committee will review all applicable new or revised laser safety standards.

D. Membership of Laser Safety Committee

The Idaho State University Laser Safety Committee shall consist of faculty and staff who by their knowledge and experience are qualified to make judgements and recommend policy in the area of laser safety.  Committee members shall be appointed by Vice President of Academic Affairs in consultation with the various deans, directors, and department heads.

E. Authority

The LSC and the LSO have the authority to suspend, restrict, and terminate the operation of a laser project if it is deemed that the laser hazard controls are inadequate.


A. General

The LSO will work with the individual LPI to ensure the safety standards of each laser laboratory are adequate.  The LSO shall be appointed by the Vice President for Academic Affairs and has the authority to monitor and enforce the control of laser hazards and to effect training of personnel involved with the use of laser technology and applications.

B. Consultative Services

The LSO will provide consultative services on laser classification, hazard evaluation and controls, procedure approval, and personnel training programs.

C. Training Programs

Training shall be provided to each employee and student routinely operating a Class 3b or 4 laser or laser system.  The level of training will be commensurate with the degree of potential laser hazards.  A comprehensive laser safety program is available from the TSO.  Other training programs are encouraged.  The LSC should be informed of the content of these alternative programs.  Training should be completed at the time work begins, but no later than 2 months subsequent to initiation of work.

D. Records

The LSO will ensure that the appropriate records are maintained indicating that appropriate training has been provided and all users of laser systems are listed on the appropriate projects.

The LSO shall periodically contact the LPIs to ensure the laser application is current.

E. Surveys and Inspections

The LSO will survey all areas where Class 3b and 4 laser equipment is used.  Surveys shall be performed on a regular basis, when modifications to the laser and/or laser system have occurred, before the initial operation of a new laser, or as deemed necessary.

Items reviewed during the survey include but are not limited to protective equipment, signs and labels, equipment, safety features (interlocks, etc.), and training records.

The LSO will accompany regulatory agencies inspecting the laser facility.  The LSO will ensure that corrective action is taken where required.

F. Accidents and Injuries

Upon notification of a known or suspected laser-related accident or injury, the LSO shall investigate the accident or injury and take appropriate action.  The LSO shall perform a hazard evaluation of the laser facility to determine the cause of the accident, interview individuals involved in the accident, and make certain that necessary controls have been implemented before operation resumes.


The Idaho State University Purchasing Department will inform the LSO of all orders for lasers and laser systems.  Notification should be in the form of a copy of the Purchasing Requisition.  The LSO will contact the LPI to determine if the appropriate laser safety controls are in place, and to help remedy any problems or deficiencies.  The LSO may also prepare reports to appropriate agencies.

Note: If a class 3b or 4 laser system is to be operated on any of the premises under the control of Idaho State University, regardless of the means by which the laser system was obtained, the planned use of that system must be approved in writing by the LSO in consultation with the LSC prior to it being initially energized at Idaho State University.  This responsibility falls directly on the employees associated with organizing the activity in which the laser system is to be employed.


Lasers are classified from Class 1 through Class 4, with Class 4 having the greatest hazard.

Class Power Output Description
1 <0.4 microW  Considered safe for continuously viewing or are designed in such a way that prevents human access to laser.
2 0.4 microW-1 mW Visible light lasers will not cause eye injury if viewed momentarily.  They can possibly present an eye hazard if viewed directly for a long period of time.
3a 1 mW-5 mW  Can not damage the eye within 0.25 second of the aversion response or blink reflex.  Injury is possible if the beam is viewed with collecting optics or by staring at the direct beam.
3b 5 mW-500 mW Present an eye and skin hazard from viewing the direct beam or a specularly reflected beam.  No production of a hazardous diffuse reflection except when viewed with collecting optics.  No fire hazard is presented.
4 >500 mW These are the most hazardous lasers and may cause an eye and skin injury from the direct viewing, specular reflection, and diffuse reflection.  These lasers can produce fire and generate hazardous airborne contaminants.
Reference: ANSI Z136.1 – 2000.


Ultraviolet (0.180 micro-m – 0.400 micro-m):

Laser type  Wavelength (micro-m)
Argon Fluoride 0.193
Krypton Fluoride  0.248
Neodymium:YAG (4th harmonic)  0.266
Argon  0.275, 0.351, 0.363
Xenon Chloride  0.308
Helium Cadmium  0.325
Nitrogen  0.337
Xenon Fluoride  0.351
Neodymium:YAG (3rd harmonic)  0.355

Visible (0.400 micro-m – 0.700 micro-m):

Laser type  Wavelength (micro-m)
Helium Cadmium  0.442
Rhodamine 6G 0.450, 0.650
Argon 0.457, 0.476, 0.488, 0.514
Copper vapor 0.510, 0.578
Krypton  0.530
Neodymium:YAG (2nd harmonic) 0.532
Helium Neon  0.543, 0.632
Indium Gallium Aluminum Phosphide  0.670
Ruby  0.694

 Near-infrared (0.700 micro-m – 1,400 micro-m):

Laser type  Wavelength (micro-m)
Ti-Sapphire 0.700 – 1.000
Alexandrite 0.720 – 0.800
Gallium Aluminum Arsenide  0.780, 0.850
Gallium Arsenide  0.905
Neodymium:YAG  1.064
Helium Neon  1.180, 1.152
Indium Gallium Arsenic Phosphide  1.310

Mid-infrared (1.400 micro-m – 3.000 micro-m):

Laser type  Wavelength (micro-m)
Erbium:Glass  1.540
Homium  2.100
Hydrogen Fluoride  2.600 – 3.000
Erbium  2.940

Far-infrared (3.000 ?m – 1 mm):

Laser type  Wavelength (?m)
Helium Neon  3.390
Carbon Monoxide  5.000 – 5.500
Carbon Dioxide  10.6

Contact TSO for documents found in Appendix 3.


These guidelines are intended to assist lasers users in preparing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for laser facilities.  The information should be used as a guide to allow you to develop SOPs specific to your laser systems.

Anyone writing operating procedures should be familiar with laser safety and the Idaho State University Laser Safety Policy.  The Idaho State University Laser Safety Policy and ANSI Z136.1 require all SOPs for laser facilities to be approved by the LSO.  It is recommended that the LSO be consulted early in the development of SOPs for guidance in determination of the specific laser hazards and required control measures.

For assistance in preparation of your facilities SOPs or laser safety concerns please contact the TSO at 282-2310/2311/3669 or email at



Identify and analyze the specific hazards associated with this laser operation;  include beam hazards as well as any non-beam hazards (electrical, hazardous chemicals, high pressure, plume emissions, etc.) and the accessible evacuation path from the NHZ in the event of an emergency.


Describe the means used to mitigate each of the hazards listed above in the HAZARDS section.  Please refer to ANSI Z136.1, the Idaho State University Laser Safety Policy, or the LSO for assistance.


Describe the training requirements for the laser operator and incidental personnel.  The laser operator shall have formal training in laser safety as well as hands on training with the specific laser system.  Incidental personnel shall be made aware of the specific hazards associated with the laser operation.


List the sequential events that describe the complete operation, including when to implement the hazard control measures.  The procedures shall be written for the benefit of the laser operator who must read and understand them to perform the operation safely.


List the steps used to perform beam alignment on a laser or laser system.  Special attention should be given to control measures that can reduce the potential for exposure.  Examples for control measures are shutting down the main laser and using an alignment laser, reducing the power/energy of the laser, use of beam dumps for the primary beam, etc. All participants in areas where MPEs may be exceeded must use protective equipment.

Most laser accidents from the beam occur during the alignment operation.


Describe your planned actions in case of an accident, injury, fire, or other emergency.  Include names and phone numbers of those that must be contacted in case of an emergency.  The procedures shall include the TSO @ 282-2310/2311/3669 and ISU Public Safety @ 911 or 282-2515.  Also post the emergency procedures in the laboratory.


State the name, title, and phone number (or office location) for the person(s) responsible for ensuring that the operation is carried out in accordance with the SOPs.

All laser systems must be registered with the TSO.  Refer to Appendix 3 for information.

Contact TSO for a photocopy of the Executive Memorandum

APPENDIX 6.  Laser Safety Committee Member List

Name Department/College Phone Email
Doug Wells Physics  282-3986
Kathy Blomquist  College of Technology 282-3224
Rene Rodriguez Chemistry 282-2613
Rich Brey  Health Physics 282-2667
Tom Gesell Technical Safety Office 282-3669