Laser Safety

In academic settings, laser systems are used to complete a wide variety of research and product development tasks. For example, some laboratory applications may require the use of high-powered lasers which sometimes must be operated with exposed beams to gain the desired effect. However, laser systems present potential hazards which must not be ignored or underestimated. Laser use at Rensselaer is governed by a combination of regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA-adopted ANSI standards) as well as Part 50 of the New York State Department of Labor code rule. This page is designed to outline the requirements for laser users at Rensselaer, while more detailed information can be found by reading the RPI Laser Safety Plan or consulting with the RPI Laser Safety Officer (LSO). LSO contact information is located in the EHS Staff Directory.

Laser Safety Topics

The Laser Safety Officer (LSO) is responsible for the administration of Rensselaer’s Laser Safety Program. The LSO, or his/her designee, will approve all new laser system installations, as well as any modifications to existing systems prior to use. Further, the LSO is responsible for the following activities:

  • Hazard evaluation-Effect hazard evaluation of new and existing laser systems to include calculations of Max Permissible Exposure, Nominal Hazard Zone, and Optical Density.
  • Controls- Recommend/approve appropriate engineering and/ or administrative controls. Approve eyewear or other PPE.
  • Inspections- Periodically audit or survey Class 3b/4 laser labs for the presence and functionality of laser safety features and control measures.
  • Records- Maintain an inventory of all 3b/4 lasers on campus. Manage other required laser safety records.
  • Accidents-Respond to and investigate incidents involving actual or suspected exposure to harmful levels of laser radiation.

The LSO has the authority to suspend laser system operation in any work area at any time, if, in their judgment, elements of the program are not being met by that specific laser system. Work using such systems may resume only with the written approval of the LSO.

Lab Supervisor

  • Operate Class 3b/ 4 laser systems only when approved by LSO.
  • Ensure all required laser safety controls are present and functioning in the lab. Stop laser use if an unsafe condition exists. 
  • Submit completed laser registration form to LSO.
  • Ensure all laser users complete prescribed laser safety training and receive appropriate instructions regarding hazards present in the lab.
  • For class 3b/4 laser system the supervisor shall be familiar with the SOPs and ensure they are provided to all laser users
  • Notify the LSO in advance if a class 3b/ 4 laser is to be modified, moved, or disposed of. 
  • In the event of a laser accident implement the lab’s emergency procedure. Notify the LSO ASAP and within 24 Hrs.

Laser User

  • Do not energize or work with a laser unless authorized by the lab supervisor.
  • Comply with all safety rules and procedures prescribed by the lab supervisor and LSO.
  • If a laser accident has occurs, or is suspected, immediately inform the lab supervisor, or if not available the LSO.

All laser and related purchases (including servicing of lasers) require approval of the LSO. To minimize delays it is recommend to contact the LSO prior to submitting your requisition to purchasing.

Step 1: Complete Laser Registration Form: All lasers (regardless of class) require the Laser Registration form to be completed and sent to the LSO for review. Lower powered lasers (Class 1, 2, and 3R) will not typically require any further action.

Step 2: Lab walkthrough with LSO: Class 3b and 4 lasers and laser systems approval will require a meeting with the LSO to review proposed plans and procedures for the laser installation.

Step 3: Hazard Evaluation: The LSO will conduct a hazard evaluation for high powered lasers with an open or partially open beam path and recommend the appropriate controls. A copy of the hazard analysis will be sent to the lab PI/ Lab supervisor for their records. When possible, required safety controls, such as interlocks and glasses, should be purchased with the laser.

Step 4: Pre-operation inspection: Once the laser system and required controls have been installed the LSO is contacted to inspect the laser installation. After the pre-operational inspection is completed and any discrepancies resolved the laser is approved for operation.

The laser is then added to the campus laser registry. Modification of the laser system, or moving the laser to a new location required advanced approval from the LSO.

  • Registration and approval from LSO
  • Written operating procedures (SOPS)
  • Alignment procedures and maintenance procedures (as applicable)
  • Hazard analysis to be completed by the LSO
  • Laser safety training (both online and lab specific) for laser users and personnel working around lasers.

If the hazard analysis determines accessible laser radiation will exceed allowed limits a Laser Controlled Area (LCA) will be established. The LSO will assess appropriate engineering and administrative controls as well as PPE to be used within the LCA.

It is desirable to use the lowest power needed for the experiment and enclose the beam to the maximum extent practicable. Engineering controls such as beam blocks and interlocks are preferable to administrative controls such as procedures and warning signs. PPE (laser safety glasses) should be viewed as a last line of defense when the hazard cannot be eliminated by other means.

Laser Controlled Area (LCA) Minimum Requirements (3b/4)

  • Operated such that beam path is well defined
  • Eye protection of appropriate Optical Density (OD) and wavelength within LCA
  • Posted with Area Warning Sign
  • Room is ‘light tight’-All windows, doorways and open portals covered or restricted.
  • Under direction of Lab Supervisor knowledgeable in laser safety 
  • Access restricted to trained personnel.
  • Laser curtains/ barriers utilized.
  • Only diffusely reflecting material in or near beam path, where feasible
  • Beamstop used at end of beampath

Additional controls required for Class 4 Lasers (Recommended for 3b)

  • Door interlocks / entryway protection (allow both unobstructed egress and admittance to LCA during emergency conditions)
  • Lighted ‘Laser on’ sign or equivalent area warning device
  • Emission indicator visible inside LCA (i.e red light on laser)
  • Clearly labeled emergency stop to shutdown laser(s)
  • Laser stored or disabling when not in use (removal of key or lockout tagout)

Remote firing considered for class 4

Notify the LSO if a class 3b/4 laser will be transferred or disposed of. The lasers must be removed from the registry and regulatory requirements may apply. 

Transfer Coordination and approval from the outside organizations LSO will typically be required. Additionally, if the laser contains hazardous material EHS will assist with the shipment.

Disposal. Some lasers contain hazardous materials that require disposal as regulated waste. Examples include gas cylinders for excimer lasers and toxic dyes/ solvents for dye lasers. High powered lasers must also be rendered inoperable prior to disposal. This is typically accomplished by removing/ severing the power cord.

At a minimum, all lasers are considered electronic waste and should not be disposed of in municipal trash. For more information on how to dispose of e-waste click here.

Laser safety training is required for all laser users who work with class 3b or class 4 lasers (medium to high powered lasers). Training should also be completed by individuals that work near or around lasers. 

Laser Lab Supervisor are responsible for ensure anyone who works with or around lasers in their lab has received appropriate training. This includes both general online safety training and training in lab-specific safety procedures. 

Online laser safety training is available in the ‘optional tray’ of Percipio's compliance training section. Follow the instructions for Accessing Required Modules in Percipio. The course name is ‘Laser Safety’.

In the course, you'll be introduced to the features, non-beam hazards, and biological effects of Class 3B medium and Class 4 high-powered lasers. You'll also learn about Laser Hazard Classifications, Class 4 laser controls and measures to take in the event of an exposure incident.

Once the course is completed it will no longer appear in your optional tray. However, the course can be retaken at any time by going to your training history. Additional information on laser safety can be found in Renssalaer’s Laser Safety Program or the Laser Resources section of this the page.

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