The ANSI Z136.5 Standard for the Safe Use of Lasers in Educational Facilities is currently in the final stages of a revision which should be published by the end of 2017. The revision will contain several elements that may affect educational lab operations.
- New and revised definitions
- New Laser hazard classifications
- Updated Maximum Permitted Exposures (MPEs) for current and added wavelengths
- Updated Nominal Ocular Hazard Zones
- Color and added Safety signs with detailed explanations
- Updated and color enhanced laboratory layouts
- Added information for Fiber-Optic safety
At the March ANSI meeting, Dr. Fred Seeber was reelected as chair of the ANSI Z136.5 Committee. This Standard is vitally important for the safety of students, teachers, professors and administrators in middle schools, high schools and colleges using lasers and laser systems. The “operative word” in describing the typical laser teaching laboratory is “DYNAMIC”. There is usually a flux of students and faculty involved in a plethora of changing experiments that require new experimental set-ups involving lasers. Care must be taken to ensure that new traffic patterns and laser set-ups are done properly. Many laser laboratories in educational institutions are disorganized in regards to laser equipment, electrical power lines, water lines and mixed in with all of this, student desks. This disorganization will lead to confusion and mistakes on the part of professors and students and could become a source of laser accidents.
Common laser safety educational concerns are:
- Different laser wavelengths in the same laboratory
- Open cavity and beam paths are common
- Large student numbers work in confined areas
- Student and faculty desks are many times at beam level
- Many institutions still do not have a dedicated laser safety officer or laser safety committee
- Laser procedures and experiments still do not have standard operating procedures (SOPs)
Major causes of laser accidents in educational laboratories are: alignment, high voltage, eyewear failure, no eye wear, accidental exposure and improper restoration. Most of these could be avoided by using proper standard operating procedures (SOPs) for laser laboratories.
Some things to keep in mind when doing experiments using lasers in educational laboratories would be:
- All professors and students should have basic laser safety training for the class of laser used and the level of involvement
- Post proper warning signs and provide proper personal protection equipment
- Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for laser classes 2 and 3R for elementary and high schools (simplified). Class 4 lasers should not be used at these grade levels.
- Have a person of authority always present when working with lasers.
Organize all laser laboratories so that water lines, power lines, equipment are not on the floor of the laboratory in such a way that the participants in the laser experiment would trip or fall. Student desks should not be at the same eye level as the laser beam. Safety goggles should be clearly labeled for the wavelength and optical density [OD} of the laser being used and stored outside the laboratory door. Proper DANGER, CAUTION AND WARNING SIGNS should be clearly displayed outside the door. The ANSI Z-136.5 laser safety standard for educational institutions will give guidance to anyone using lasers in educational institutions from the elementary to the university educational level. Just using these procedures will help avoid many of the accidents listed above.
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