With the constant changes coming to the industrial and manufacturing sectors, and advanced equipment like laser marking systems becoming increasingly prevalent, it’s more important than ever to be aware of laser marking safety procedures.
These procedures range from ways to protect from bodily harm while utilizing laser marking systems to ways to avoid electrical dangers on the factory floor. It’s important to know what all of these dangers are and how to train yourself and your staff in essential laser safety.
Common Laser Hazards
One aspect to remember about laser marking safety is the variety of hazards associated with the systems which are also prevalent in many other forms of equipment. Basic safety training should mean workers are already familiar with some of these issues, but employers should be aware of:
- High voltage
- Compressed gasses
- Intense radio frequency energy
Let’s take a look at each of these individually:
- For concerns regarding high voltage, it’s important to know that pulsed CO2 lasers can produce internal voltages exceeding 25,000 volts while containing large capacitors that can deliver in excess of 200 Joules of energy.
- Some pulsed lasers also utilize a flowing gas design, which requires connection to a cylinder of compressed gas. Most of the gases used for laser systems are extremely safe, though since pressurized cylinders can pose a risk, their transportation and usage should occur only when the cylinders are properly restrained.
- As for radio frequency energy, severe burns can result from the improper servicing of units which use RF generators, such as sealed CO2 lasers. Anyone servicing such units should be trained in the unit’s safety procedures, and the connections for RF energy should not be touched during operation.
Due to the laser engraving safety checks in place for marking systems, units are designed in such a way to prevent operators from coming into direct contact with the laser beam.
One of the issues that can arise, however, involves unintentional reflected light, which falls into the following categories:
- Diffuse reflections – This type of reflection occurs when a reflective surface’s irregularities create a scattering of light in all directions. Of the types of reflections, this is the safer of the two since energy is being divided in many directions and weakened.
- Specular reflections – This type of reflection is produced in a way that is more mirror-like, recreating close to 100% of the original light compared to the scattered light of diffuse reflections. Though there is a higher danger associated with this form, it is much less common and laser marking systems are often designed to eliminate specular reflective surfaces that would come across the beam’s path.
With proper safety procedures in place, and by following guidelines which accompany your laser marking systems, these hazards should be greatly minimized.
Skin and Eye Hazards
Due to laser engraving safety checks in place, the effects of lasers on skin are usually considered of secondary importance. Compared to laser marking and engraving systems, high-powered infrared lasers utilized in applications for welding and cutting pose a much greater risk of injury.
Some potential effects that can occur if safety procedures are not followed include mild reddening, blistering, and charring, all of which are usually reversible or repairable. Other potential issues could include ulceration, scarring of the skin, depigmentation and damage to underlying organs.
In regards to eye safety, some forms of laser beams operate at a wavelength which if exposed to the eye can pass beyond to the retina. With no pain indicators present and the beam being invisible, someone exposed can be unaware at the time of the occurrence.
This is just another reason why utilizing industry-standard laser safety glasses is so vital to maintaining a safe and healthy workspace.
An additional hazard that can be posed when using laser systems is that of electrical shocks. Some of the ways shocks can occur is through contact with:
- Exposed utility power utilization
- Device controls
- Power supply conductors operating at potentials of 50+ volts
Operators and service workers for laser marking systems must be especially careful to avoid these dangers by following standard safety protocols. These hazards could be experienced during:
- Set-up and installation
- Maintenance and service
- Troubleshooting, if equipment protective covers are removed
The electrical injuries that can be sustained from improper and haphazard use of laser systems can include everything from a slight tingle to serious bodily injury to death. To avoid accidental contact with these energized conductors, laser marking units utilize a barrier system within the equipment.
In the United States, laser systems are overseen by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), which is a component of the FDA. Depending upon the risk of a specific type of laser, it is graded from Class 1 to Class 4. Laser marking lasers tend to be graded as Class 4 lasers, making laser marking safety all the more important.
Two important additional classifications to keep in mind are the Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) and Nominal Hazard Zone (NHZ) designations.
- Maximum Permissible Exposure – This is the highest level of laser radiation an individual can be exposed to without receiving harmful physical effects to the eye or skin. Control measures for laser marking systems are in place to ensure any laser radiation emitted falls below the MPE.
- Nominal Hazard Zone – To create conditions for flexibility in laser marking applications, the laser beam of the unit is often not fully enclosed for practicality reasons. In these instances, it is necessary to define an area of potentially hazardous laser radiation, which is the NHZ. Control measures are then put into place for this area to ensure safety during use of the laser system.
Being fully aware of these classifications and their rationales are vital to ensuring proper workplace laser marking safety.
FAQs About Laser Marking Safety
What laser engraving safety measures should be in place at my facility?
If your business operates laser systems, there are specific things you will need to do in your working environment to maintain laser engraving safety regulations.
One required safety measure is to hang clear warning signs throughout your facility. This will indicate to people that they are in a dangerous zone, should take precautions, and need to wear protective clothing.
It’s also a necessity to have protective clothing on hand for anyone working with a laser system. This includes the specialized eyewear needed for retinal protection.
Laser systems also can benefit from ventilation and fume extraction systems. When working with certain materials, laser engravings can generate fumes and particles that could be harmful, which is why it’s important to properly ventilate your workspace.
Lastly, when implementing laser marking safety measures, it’s vital to check what materials are compatible with your laser marking system. Certain materials can emit hazardous fumes which can put operators at risk.
What should I do if a laser-related accident does happen?
A laser-related accident could include someone being exposed to a laser beam, a mechanical failure taking place in the system, or another issue taking place. For any of these scenarios, securing the area and turning off the laser system would be immediate steps to take. If someone is exposed to a laser beam, medical attention should be quickly sought.
For any kind of system malfunctions, shutting off the system will help to avoid potential damage, and you can then get a professional to address any issues.
Overall, being prepared for any scenario is a highly important part of laser engraving safety.
Do different types of lasers pose risks?
Yes, there are safety risks for lasers, but these can be mitigated. Here are various laser engraving safety precautions to be aware of:
- CO2 lasers – These lasers mark and engrave wood, glass, paper, and other materials. They’re also capable of causing severe burns if misused, so it’s important to wear protective eyewear when operating them. The work environment also requires proper ventilation to remove fumes from the CO2 laser process.
- MOPA fiber lasers – Made to engrave thicker materials such as steel, titanium, aluminum, and more, these lasers also require eye protection to ensure complete safety. Without protective wear, the laser can cause skin burns and eye damage.
- UV lasers – UV lasers have a shorter wavelength and are ideal for marking silicon, electronic chips, and more. They require an environment that blocks UV radiation to prevent accidental exposure, and protective eyewear is recommended.
Is it safe to operate laser products without training?
No, it’s not safe and will put many people at risk. Employees need to be properly trained on the following subjects related to laser marking safety:
- Characteristics of a laser
- The specific protocols for different kinds of lasers
- How to read laser signs
- Selecting appropriate eyewear
- Maintenance of laser products
Learn More About Laser Engraving Safety Today
For a more detailed look at laser marking safety information, be sure to visit our laser safety manual, which includes graphics, information about warning labels, and procedural controls to utilize.
And if you have further questions for our team, or would like to know more about our premier line of laser marking systems, be sure to contact us today.