Rockwell Laser Industries
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The Laser Safety Officer

R. James Rockwell, Jr.
Rockwell Laser Industries

Introduction

The conditions under which the laser is used, the level of safety training of individuals using the laser, and other environmental and personnel factors are important considerations in determining the full extent of laser safety control measures and an overall safety program.

These considerations require informed judgments to be made by trained persons who have been authorized by the facility management to conduct such duties. The major responsibility for such judgments has been assigned to a person with the requisite authority and responsibility, namely the Laser Safety Officer (LSO).

General

An individual shall be designated the Laser Safety Officer  with the authority and responsibility to monitor and enforce the control of laser hazards and to effect the knowledgeable evaluation and control of laser hazards. Throughout the body of the ANSI Z136.1 standard it is indicated that wherever duties or responsibilities of the LSO are specified, it means that the LSO either performs the stated task or ensures that the task is performed.

The key element in the overall laser safety program is the Laser Safety Officer. The LSO is an individual designated by management who has the responsibility and authority to manage the overall laser safety program. The Laser Safety Officer must ensure that all employees who operate, maintain, or service laser products are properly trained. The Laser Safety Officer is also responsible for establishing, monitoring, and enforcing laser controls, as well as evaluating laser hazards.

The following are a few key LSO program factors:

  • Depending on the extent and number of laser installations, the position of LSO may or may not be a full time assignment.
  • In some instances, designation of an LSO may not be required; for example: operation and maintenance of Class 1 and Class 2 lasers and laser systems normally do not require the designation of an LSO. However, under some circumstances, it may be necessary to designate an LSO. For example, if service is performed on a laser system having an embedded Class 3a, Class 3b, or Class 4 laser or laser system.
  • In some instances, such as servicing embedded lasers, the designation of an LSO may be the responsibility of the organization requiring access to the embedded laser or laser system, such as the service company or organization.
  • There shall be a designated LSO for all circumstances of operation, maintenance, and service of a Class 3b or Class 4 laser or laser system, and there should be a designated LSO for Class 3a lasers and laser systems.

Laser Safety Officer Specific Responsibilities

The ANSI Z136.1 standard indicates the following as key LSO responsibilities:

  1. Classification. The Laser Safety Officer shall classify, or verify classifications of, lasers and laser systems used under the LSO's jurisdiction.

  2. Hazard Evaluation. The Laser Safety Officer shall be responsible for hazard evaluation of laser work areas, including the establishment of Nominal Hazard Zones (NHZ)

  3. Control Measures. The Laser Safety Officer shall be responsible for assuring that the prescribed control measures are in effect, recommending or approving substitute or alternate control measures when the primary ones are not feasible or practical, and periodically auditing the functionality of those control measures in use.

    This shall include, but not be limited to, such actions as establishing an NHZ, approving standard operating procedures (SOPs), avoiding unnecessary or duplicate controls, selecting alternate controls, conducting periodic facility and equipment audits, and training.

  4. Procedure Approvals. The Laser Safety Officer shall approve SOPs, alignment procedures, and other procedures that may be part of the requirements for administrative and procedural controls.

  5. Protective Equipment. The Laser Safety Officer shall recommend or approve protective equipment i.e., eyewear, clothing, barriers, screens, etc., as may be required to assure personnel safety. The LSO shall assure that protective equipment is audited periodically to ensure proper working order.

  6. Signs and Labels. The Laser Safety Officer shall approve the wording on area signs and equipment labels.

  7. Facility and Equipment. The Laser Safety Officer shall approve laser installation facilities and laser equipment prior to use. This also applies to modification of existing facilities or equipment.

  8. Safety Features Audits. The Laser Safety Officer shall ensure that the safety features of the laser installation facilities and laser equipment are audited periodically to assure proper operation.

  9. Training. The Laser Safety Officer shall assure that adequate safety education and training are provided to laser area personnel.

  10. Medical Surveillance. The Laser Safety Officer shall determine the personnel categories for medical surveillance.

Laser Safety Officer Qualifications

Who makes the "best" Laser Safety Officer? That question is being asked almost every time someone "new" enters the laser field. The "best" LSO? It’s like asking who makes the best traffic cop, best mathematician, best teacher, best politician, best organizer, etc. All of these qualities are important, you see.

Perhaps one can learn by sampling the background of some of the more experienced LSO’s in the business today. That list includes engineers of all specialties (e.g., electrical, metallurgical, etc.), biophysicists, surgical nurses, clinical engineers, industrial hygienists, radiation physicists, laser technicians, safety engineers, hospital administrators, shop foremen, etc. The list goes on and on.

Is there a common thread that ties all of these seemingly unrelated specialties together? What are the most important factors that make an individual "the best" as a Laser Safety Officer? From the broad-based list, it would certainly seem that educational specialty or an academic degree is NOT the common thread. If not, what is?

Perhaps it is the simple fact that "The Boss" said, "Your it! You have just become the LSO." This is probably closer to actual fact than all of the arguments regarding background or academic specialty. Most of those currently serving as an Laser Safety Officers probably said, "I will do it" while most of the others begged off, claiming they already had too much to do, anyway.

Is something that simple the common thread? It seems that the desire to do the job is foremost no matter what the job or the background. There must be some reason that "The Boss" asked that person, anyway. Perhaps it was their ability to understand all of the technical jargon. But, remember that some are simply not at home with MPE’s, NHZ’s, OD’s, AEL’s and all of the other "laser safety alphabet soup" of the ANSI Standards. Maybe the individual impressed "The Boss" with their ability to get things done and to motivate people to do the things asked of them. Maybe the person expressed sincere concerns about safety using lasers. In short, maybe the selection is based on the fact that this individual had the intangible quality called leadership. In management jargon, they showed the ability to manage people.

Qualifications

Is "the best" Laser Safety Officer simply an individual with a sincere concern about laser safety, who said yes when nobody else would and happens to be a good "people person"? Obviously there is a bit more to being an Laser Safety Officer, but these qualities can carry the inventive LSO a long way. But that’s not the whole story.

The singularly most important factor in having a successful Laser Safety Officer is the level of authority extended to that person by the facility management. The ANSI Z-136.1 standard is very specific in this regard. In that document, the Laser Safety Officer is defined as: "One who has the authority to monitor and enforce the control of laser hazards and effect the knowledgeable evaluation and control of laser hazards." Note that it did not say, do the knowledgeable evaluation, but rather effect the knowledgeable evaluation.

In standards lingo, this means that the Laser Safety Officer need not be a technical wizard. The LSO has been given license to seek the assistance of others who may more completely understand the mathematical sophistication of MPE, NHZ and OD calculations. The key factor is that the Laser Safety Officer needs the skills to implement a laser safety control program using the results of such analytical efforts and be given the authority to make the program work. A Laser Safety Officer without stated authority is like a swimmer without water. It’s hard to make a big splash! In fact, it's impossible!

What does this all mean to the new laser user? Who should be chosen as the Laser Safety Officer? What are the keys to a successful laser safety program? Well, here are a few suggestions:

  1. First, establish a "laser safety" policy. This could be as simple as stating that the facility will "adopt" the ANSI Z-136 standard. Management must make it abundantly clear that the LSO has the authority to enforce the adopted policy.

  2. The Laser Safety Officer can be a person with most any educational background. Experience suggests, however, that an understanding of the uses of the laser is essential. In industry, those with an industrial hygiene background seem ideally suited as regards educational background. In medicine, a clinical engineer is often selected. Note that a chief laser scientist or laser surgeon should not be appointed the LSO. That would be the same as making a race driver the traffic cop.

  3. Respect is a major factor in the success of the Laser Safety Officer to do the job. It is essential to choose as the LSO an individual who will have the respect of those working with lasers. None the less, the Laser Safety Officer should always keep in mind that authority is given, but respect is earned.

  4. The Laser Safety Officer is viewed by some, perhaps, as the "Photon Cop." Well, if this is what it takes to save eyesight or prevent electrocutions, then it must be. The Laser Safety Officer cannot be shy about enforcing policy.

  5. A little knowledge, they say, is a dangerous thing. The Laser Safety Officer must be given every opportunity for self-improvement. Attendance at laser safety short courses is essential. Since the laser field changes at a very fast pace, refresher training and advanced level courses are strongly recommended on at least a two or three year basis.

  6. Provide the "tools of the trade." Subscriptions to the major laser magazines, attendance to at least one major laser meeting each year, membership in laser organizations, providing computer based software for laser databases and/or computations, etc. All of these aid in understanding and effecting the Laser Safety Officer’s tasks in the most efficient way.

  7. Provide aids for internal educational programs. Videotapes, slide sets, books, training texts, etc. are all required for the Laser Safety Officer to effectively provide training.

  8. Don’t be penny wise and pound-foolish. It takes financial resources to affect a sound safety program. Resources are needed for equipment, training, information, communication, motivation and staffing. It shouldn’t take much to compare the six-figure costs of only one laser accident to the five figure costs of running a meaningful laser control program to realize how to save money for the employer.

Who makes the "best" Laser Safety Officer? It should be an individual who has a stated commitment to safety. The keystone to the Laser Safety Officer’s motivation should be the desire to have all who work with lasers do so without injury. That can be almost anyone, I would hope!

Laser Safety Officer Duties

The LSO duties include laser classification, evaluation of Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE), Accessible Emission Limits (AEL) for specific laser classes, and Nominal Hazard Zones (NHZ), inspection and audits, approval of the laser Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), recommendation of protective equipment, specification of area warning signs, and consultation services. Detailed Laser Safety Officer duties are listed below in Table 1.

According to the ANSI standard For the Safe Use of Lasers (ANSI Z136.1), the designation of a Laser Safety Officer is generally not required for operation of a Class 2 or Class 3a laser or laser system. Nor is a Laser Safety Officer usually required if maintenance and service are limited to Class 1 and Class 2 laser systems that do not contain enclosed lasers rated higher than Class 3a. If, however, service is performed on a laser product with an enclosed Class 3b or Class 4 laser, it is necessary to designate an LSO.

In many cases, the Laser Safety Officer may be either on the staff of a corporate industrial hygiene or safety department or, sometimes, a laser engineer with safety responsibility. Depending upon the size of the organization, the number and types of lasers, and the extent of laser activity, the LSO may be a full-time or a part-time duty. In some very large facilities, it may be necessary for the Laser Safety Officer to appoint a deputy LSO, who reports to the Laser Safety Officer on all laser safety matters. The deputy LSO performs the duties of the Laser Safety Officer when that person is absent. In some very large laser facilities, a laser safety committee may be designated with members from each of the key organization sectors.

Other functions of the Laser Safety Officer are to consult with design and develop staff for new manufacturing procedures and equipment. In this way, safety considerations can be addressed in the initial phases of new process development. By involving the Laser Safety Officer at the early design and development stages, safety requirements such as training, special protective equipment, and special area design can be determined prior to the introduction of new equipment into the work place.

The Laser Safety Officer approves SOPs. The SOPs should be devised by those responsible for the operation of the systems with the approval given by the LSO. It is recommended that a written SOP be prepared for each laser system, and that employees be required to sign a form stating that they have read and understand the SOP. SOPs improve safety and eliminate uncertainty about specific procedures. SOPs are especially valuable guides for new laser workers.

Managers and Supervisors

It is the responsibility of management to:

  1. Appoint the Laser Safety Officer

  2. Verify that all appropriate controls are applied

  3. Provide training to all laser workers

  4. Provide medical surveillance practices

It is the duty of managers and supervisors to:

  1. Maintain the names and date of all persons trained and also inform the Laser Safety Officer of training completions and requirements.

  2. Issue appropriate instructions and training materials on laser hazards and the control of the hazards to all personnel working with lasers in their area.

  3. Not permit the operation of lasers without adequate control of the hazards.

  4. Work in conjunction with the Laser Safety Officer regarding the qualifications of laser users.

  5. Report any known or suspected laser-related injury to the Laser Safety Officer.

  6. Assist in obtaining medical attention for those involved in a laser accident

  7. Approve laser system operation after consulting with the Laser Safety Officer.

  8. Verify that meaningful SOPs have been prepared for the use of Class 3b and Class 4 lasers (lower classes if deemed necessary by the Laser Safety Officer).

Resources

Information on Laser Safety Officer duties can be found in the following resources:

  1. American National Standards Institute, American National Standard for the Safe Use of Lasers: ANSI Z-136.1 (2000), Laser Institute of America, Orlando, FL, 2000.

  2. Robert J. Thomas, Benjamin A. Rockwell, Wesley J. Marshall, Robert C. Aldrich, Sheldon A. Zimmerman and R. James Rockwell, Jr., A procedure for laser hazard classification under the Z136.1-2000 American National Standard for the Safe Use of Lasers, J. of Laser Appl., 14, N. 1, 57-66, Feb., 2002.

  3. R. James Rockwell, Jr., James F. Smith and Wm. J. Ertle, Playing it Safe with Industrial Lasers, Photonics Spectra, Vol 29, No. 4, pp:118-124, April, 1995

  4. R. James Rockwell, Jr., Laser Accidents: reviewing thirty years of incidents: What are the concerns - old and new?, Journal of Laser Applications, December, 1994

  5. Rockwell, R. James, Jr. and Moss, C.E., Optical Radiation Hazards of Laser Welding Processes Part II: Carbon Dioxide Laser, The Journal of The American Industrial Hygiene Association, Vol. 50, No. 8, pp. 419-427, August, 1989.

 

TABLE 1

DUTIES OF A LASER SAFETY OFFICER

LSO Duty   Activity
Operational Laser Characteristics  
  • Laser operation
  • Laser definitions
  • Review of laser applications
Laser Hazards  
  • Eye and skin hazards of direct and reflected beams
  • Laser exposure criteria (MPE, AEL)
  • Hazard assessment (OD, NHZ)
  • Non-beam hazards: electrical, fire, fumes, particles, etc.
Laser Safety Standards  
  • Specific company laser regulations
  • ANSI Z136.1
  • The Federal Laser Product Performance Standard
  • OSHA laser regulations
  • Applicable regional, state, and local regulations
  • Applicable international laser regulations
Laser Controls  
  • Reducing beam hazards
  • Types/selection of eye protection
  • Methods of electrical safety
  • Methods for fume removal
  • Methods to reduce fire hazards
  • SOP for laser use
Safety Methods and Procedures  
  • Beam alignment
  • Barriers and other laser controls
  • Beam measurements
  • Laser system controls
  • Laser area warning signs
  • Entryway control options
  • Control of unauthorized personnel
  • Training requirements for laser workers