We are often asked How Can You Protect Yourself From Laser Hazards? Working with lasers can be very dangerous. Most people know not to look directly into a laser beam, but there are many other risks associated with using lasers in industries such as military, scientific or industrial. Perhaps the laser is not within your control or is used against you as can be the case in military or police settings. Below are some of the more unusual situations where you might need to protect yourself against lasers.
Protecting yourself against laser strikes
There has been a marked increase of late in lasers being used against pilots flying aircraft which can cause temporary blindness. Even handheld lasers used from the ground can cause flash blindness and can be dangerous even from a long distance away.
There has been an increase in the penalties provided to those who use lasers against people operating machinery such as aircrafts, however this doesn’t seem to have reduced the number of occurrences and certainly does not mitigate the risks for those upon whom the lasers are used. The FAA has stated however that pilots are now more aware than ever as to the dangers of laser strikes and thereby may simply be reporting them more often due to this increased awareness. However as the availability of lasers becomes more widespread within the general public, these figures are only set to increase.
Many pilot standard operating procedures are now inclusive of wearing appropriate laser strike eyewear when flying a plane during low levels or while the plane is taking off or landing. Pilots should be looking for eyewear which protects against green laser light, which is the most dangerous visible beam and becoming more common in its use.
Can visible, UV or Infred light affect you even if not viewing directly?
The short answer is yes. When used, lasers produce heat which can be absorb by the retina and destroys the cells. The retina is sensitive to even minor exposure to heat and have a devastating effect on eyesight in the long term.
Light outside the visible spectrum such as infrared or ultraviolet can concentrate in the lens or cornea and can damage photoreceptor cells immediately and can increase the risk of developing cataracts. As this light is outside of the spectrum it is often undetected by the body which does not produce its normal reflex to blink or close the eye, meaning that people may experience damage without knowing it has occurred.
Laser glasses can block this light and not only work to protect the eye itself but also the surround soft tissue around the eye. Bigger lenses also help to protect the eye against diffused light or angled reflections providing additional protection just by wearing them.
This light can even travel through clear materials and substances such as windows. Windows may be manufactured with some coverage in place with extra layers of protection to limit the damage and help to keep the lasers contained within an area, however they are not a replacement for wearing laser safety glasses in the workplace and should not be relied upon on their own.
Reflections of lasers can be just as bad as a direct view
Lasers are typically used within a controlled environment where your employers will have worked to mitigate the risks to you, and you should have been provided with the appropriate PPE to protect yourself. However, it is also possible that those working in areas around you while you are using the laser can also be affected by its use through reflection.
Within a military environment for example, situations are much less controlled and can provide dangerous conditions as lasers are able to reflect off surfaces or even particles. This unpredictability is the reason that many military personnel wear laser safety glasses even when the risk is thought to be low. Should a beam of laser light be reflected back again its path becomes harder to predicts and redirect. Laser safety glasses help to keep this radiation to a minimum and helps to protect those working in this environment for any eventuality. Radiation is most common in its direct or diffused reflection state.
When does direct, specular or reflection happen?
Specular reflection means that the beam has been reflected off a smooth surface. This surface will have had little or no impact on the concentration of the beam and the laser light is as dangerous as if it had been shone directly into your eyes. This situation occurs when a beam of laser light is shone onto calm water, glass or smooth metal surfaces and bounces the light back acting as a mirror. Curved surfaces can also create specular reflection should the laser beam hit a concave surface at the right angle. Instead of causing the beam to scatter or diffuse it can actually intensify the beam and make it more dangerous.
Diffused reflection is still dangerous…
Most laser reflections are of the diffused variety. Once a laser beam hits a rough surface the light is diffused or scattered. This can mean that the beam of light is less concentrated however it can also mean that it is less predictable. Sometimes the laser beam can be safe to view with the naked eye however who would want to take the chance? A Class IV laser reflection can still cause damage to a persons eye enough to cause short or long term damage and we feel it is simply not worth the risk to your eye sight to be caught without a pair of laser safety glasses.
Laser light that is diffused can actually become more dangerous if a person is using a telescope or binoculars as they work to increase the beams intensity and can concentrate this beam in the eyes of the user. Safety filters or lenses can be applied to the optical aid to reduce the chances that this may occur. This is imperative should you be using lasers outside of the visible spectrum for all the dangers listed above.
So How Can You Protect Yourself From Laser Hazards? As you can see from this article direct laser light is not the only danger to your eyes as there is also a risk of reflection and laser beams coming from unexpected locations. Make wearing laser safety glasses a key part of your safety procedures to help reduce the risk of injury or long term eye damage including permanent loss of eyesight.