Developing a Laser Safety Culture

By: Ken Barat

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley California

While we have come a long way with laser technology, laser safety has lagged in one important area. Still today the most common laser incident is an individual (usually student) performing some type of beam manipulation and not wearing proper protective eyewear and being struck by a stray or direct beam. The answer is not better eyewear, which would help, nor remote viewing, which would greatly enhances safety,  but rather the LSO and their institution and Senior laser users  need to spend more time working on changing user’s safety culture, in order to make a significant impact on the number of laser accidents. Laser Safety is an achievable goal. It is a goal that is extremely important in all laser use settings, but in particular in the research setting where the laser user manipulate beams and in doing so put themselves and others at risk. A one-time fix without user buy-in will fade away as soon as the next crisis occurs or next project deadline arises. The only way to maintain laser safety in a research setting is through a cultural change that will be passed down from one user to the next. Once established, it can be sustained from one user to another. The paper presented reviewed what the author believes to be the essential steps/components in establishing a robust laser safety culture. Those elements are: Management Tone (it must start from the top and not just lip service), Institutional Training (required per ANSI Z136),  Lessons Learned Class (the value of learning from one’s peers cannot be over-estimated), On the Job Training or mentoring (this is what really keeps one safe at the work place and is misunderstood by most), Administrative Controls (most important controls in research, while Engineering Controls are the most important in Industry), Institutional Assurance (Compliance and applicability of controls needs to be confirmed) and User Actions (self assessment, stepping and seeing if one can improve their set up , housekeeping cannot be stressed enough). The only way to maintain laser is through a cultural change that will be passed down from one user to the next and becomes part of the work process, aka culture.