As lasers grow ever more powerful and plentiful the issue of safety grows more urgent, according to leaders in the field who gathered last month for the International Laser Safety Conference.
Leading discussions on successful laser programs was LLNL and NIF Laser Safety Officer Jamie King, who co-chaired the event’s two-day Technical Practical Applications Seminar with Eddie Ciprazo of UC Berkeley.
The biennial event was held in Atlanta, Georgia, and drew more than 200 practitioners and experts from a wide variety of fields ranging from science, medicine, and biomedical research to the military, government, and producers of entertainment lighting.
King, who has more than 25 years of experience in the laser safety field, presented two papers at the conference: “Setting up a Laser Lab, Avoid the Pitfalls” and “Resources for the Laser Safety Officer: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel.”
Also speaking at the event was Reggie Drachenberg of NIF & Photon Science, who presented a talk on “Optical Fiber Lasers and Their Hazards.“
King emphasized the importance of planning, both when setting up laser labs and when retrofitting existing ones, to ensure key hazards are controlled—such as potential viewing paths into the laser-controlled areas by both regular users and other personnel.
He noted that reducing the potential for exposure to personnel decreases the hazard and lowers the level of required safety training, which in turn can lower operational costs.
King’s top suggestions were:
King also discussed the issues arising from advancing technology and increasing access to high power/high intensity lasers. As the cost per joule or watt of optical output goes down, the use of very-high-output lasers is becoming commonplace, King told the audience. “These types of lasers and laser systems are in a league of their own,” he said, “and they require significantly higher levels of controls.”
He warned that with systems that are pushing the edge in terms of technology and optical output, it can be difficult to find commercially available safety products that are tested to these much higher output levels. Issues include ionizing radiation, eye and skin protection, and whether standard building material can handle such lasers. King noted that a 25-kilowatt laser beam (~10kW/cm2) can cut through simple drywall in a second. His advice to ensure safety in the operation of high-power laser facilities was to promote remote operation of the laser and remove workers from the hazard area.