Lasers might be seemingly straight out of science fiction, but they are an actively-used technology in the world today. In fact, they have actually been around for a very long time. Interest in radiation was incredibly high at the start of the 20th Century from the discovery of radio, X-rays, and radar. In 1960, following years of discussion of scientific theory on amplifying light, Theodore Maiman placed a ruby inside a helical-shaped lamp to create the world’s first laser. The technology has been advancing ever since, having applications in communications, entertainment, surgery, and scientific advancement.
Most lasers are just amplifying light, but the frequency of each laser varies. Some kinds can be looked at directly without causing ocular harm, while others can be damaging from any kind of exposure. ANSI Z136.1-2014: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers sets recommended guidelines for the safe use of lasers that operate at wavelengths between 180 nm and 1000 μm. The standard sets guidelines for both the environment in which the laser is being used and any environment around the path of the beam.
While susceptibility to damage of materials is an important consideration with laser operations, the primary concern is the hazard to any person operating the equipment. ANSI Z136.1-2014 classifies each type of laser by its potential for biological harm. These classifications are Class 1, Class 1M, Class 2, Class 2M, Class 3R, Class 3B, and Class 4, with Class 1 lasers being exempt from any kind of control due to their lack of hazard and Class 4 lasers requiring strict controls in order to reduce the risk of exposure to the eyes or skin. The specific controls for each classification are thoroughly described in the standard. Since the use of lasers is essential for the operations of many much-needed technologies, securing the safety of the personnel of those operations makes them only more beneficial to society.
ANSI Z136.1-2014 is a standard by the Laser Institute of America (LIA). The LIA is responsible for several other standards regarding laser applications and safety, including:
ANSI Z136.2-2012: American National Standard for Safe Use of Optical Fiber Communication Systems Utilizing Laser Diode and LED Sources
ANSI Z136.3-2011: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Health Care
ANSI Z136.4-2010: American National Standard Recommended Practice for Laser Safety Measurements for Hazard Evaluation
ANSI Z136.5- 2009: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Educational Institutions
ANSI Z136.6-2005: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers Outdoors
ANSI Z136.7-2008: American National Standard for Testing and Labeling of Laser Protective Equipment
ANSI Z136.8-2012: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Research, Development, or Testing
ANSI Z136.9-2013: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Manufacturing Environments
Even with standardization, lasers can still lead to harm if they are not used properly. For example, there have been many reported “laser assaults” against airplane pilots in the news lately. People on the ground are aiming green lasers towards flying planes, which illuminate the cockpits and ruin the pilots’ field of vision. Consumers need to be responsible with any laser products in their possession, even if they are labeled as Class 1.