Applications of Lasers

In a past post, we discussed ANSI Z136.1-2014: Safe Use Of Lasers, a standard by the Laser Institute of America (LIA) meant to classify laser beams by their potential harm to users and bystanders during laser operations. These classifications, which are organized by increasing intensity as 1, 1M, 2, 2M, 3R, 3B, and 4, are needed to protect personnel who operate lasers on a daily basis. The LIA has several different standards catered specifically to the use of lasers in certain industries.

One of the main applications of lasers is in manufacturing. Laser beams are used in cutting and welding of many different materials. ANSI Z136.9-2013: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Manufacturing Environments provides guidelines for laser use in these applications. It recommends that management establish a laser safety program, since they are responsible for the safety of their employees. This program should involve provisions for educating the laser-operating personnel in laser systems greater than Class 1, adequate control measures for mitigating laser hazards, a venue for incident investigation, appropriate medical examinations, and formation of a Laser Safety Committee. Examples of protective measures against laser beams include barriers for employees to stand behind and recommended eyewear.

Lasers are also widely utilized in laboratory research, development, and testing. Laser operations in these environments are unique because they may be used in conditions different from regular operations, accessing levels of radiation that vary from the designations in the standardized classes. For example, physicists in a laboratory setting have recently created an “air laser”, which certainly differs from the common types of lasers. ANSI Z136.8-2012: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Research, Development, or Testing is intended to manage any controls needed to ensure the safety of laboratory personnel operating laser equipment. In most cases, the methods outlined in the standard can remove the need for laser radiation measurements and other testing methods. These additional tests and measurements can create unwanted laser-related hazards.     

Lasers are also important equipment for scientific education. ANSI Z136.5- 2009: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Educational Institutions establishes recommendations for laser operations in educational institutions that use lasers as part of their curriculum or academic instruction. Similar to the training program from ANSI Z136.9-2013, this standard suggests a training procedure for students who operate laser equipment as learning instruments. The spaces used to house these lasers are often not properly designed to do so, occasionally being too small to properly project laser beams without harming people’s eyes and even creating electrical hazards from using too much energy. The standard provides guidelines to properly avoid any detrimental effects related to these variables.

Along with specific information on their particular applications, each of these standards provides a background on the classifications of laser types that are laid out in ANSI Z136.1-2014. Any LIA standard should be used in conjunction with this standard if the laser systems are implemented indoors. If any laser operations for manufacturing or research occur outdoors, then personnel and supervisors should follow the guidelines established in ANSI Z136.6-2005: American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers Outdoors. This type of environment differs from any indoors because there is more space for the laser beam to travel.
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