ILSC 2011 – A Closer Look at Laser Safety

Presented by LIA, the International Laser Safety Conference (ILSC®) is a comprehensive four-day conference covering all aspects of laser safety practice and hazard control. Laser safety experts from around the world descended on San Jose, Calif. to discuss and define the latest changes to regulations and common practices in the field. Held March 14-17, 2011, scientific sessions addressed developments in regulatory, mandatory and voluntary safety standards for laser products and for laser use.

ILSC is the pinnacle of laser safety meetings. The conference has evolved to have two tracks with a significant benefit to the laser safety community. The first track was the Technical Sessions with presentations by recognized worldwide experts in a variety of fields relevant to the cutting-edge in laser safety, called the Laser Safety Scientific Sessions, which was chaired this year by John O’Hagan from the Health Protection Agency in Great Britain. The second track was the practical applications seminar (PAS), now with both technical laser safety and medical laser safety components. These PAS sessions have grown into a favorite of the working laser safety officer, with many talks about the day-to-day challenges facing them. As new and novel laser applications push the envelope of modern technology, protection of personnel from the complex laser hazards is paramount to assuring success. Sheldon Zimmerman from the Naval Surface Warfare Center chaired the Technical PAS and Vangie Dennis from the Gwinnett Medical Center chaired the Medical PAS sessions.


ILSC Plenary Sessions

The 2011 ILSC provided attendees with significant opportunities to hear from the top experts in the field of laser safety through the opening plenary and closing plenary sessions, explained Conference General Chair Ben Rockwell, Ph. D., Air Force Research Laboratory, Brooks City-base, Texas. ILSC featured two renowned speakers for its opening plenary session entitled “Lasers and You.” This session started with Dr. Leon McLin from the Air Force Research Laboratory who spoke on “Dazzling with High-Powered Laser Pointers.” This was an exciting discussion of the proliferation of low-cost, high-power laser pointers and their impact on accident reports and incidents involving commercial aircraft. Dr. Kay Ball, associate professor at Otterbein University presented, “Lasers in Health Care Today.” This talk highlighted the latest in laser use in the medical field with applications in fields as broad as dermatology and ophthalmology. Both speakers addressed today’s hot topics for all ILSC attendees.

“ILSC featured five of the most-requested topics for the closing plenary session. The topics included laser accident reports, changes of safety limits in the thermal regime, laser applications for digital display cinema, building a laser safety culture and safety of lamps and broadband light sources,” said Rockwell.

Bill Ertle, president of Rockwell Laser Industries in Cincinnati, Ohio, presented the briefing on laser accident reports. Karl Schulmeister from Seibersdorf Laboratories in Austria presented a comprehensive discussion of the changes to the exposure levels for pulses in the microsecond to several seconds exposure regime. Casey Stack from Laser Compliance in Centerview, Utah presented an illuminating review of proposed uses of lasers in movie cinemas for high brightness sources. Ken Barat from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory presented a comprehensive discussion of building a laser safety culture. Finally, Dr. David Sliney, a recognized leader in the field, presented the latest in lamp safety standards and their implications to the laser safety professional. These topics were presented by recognized experts in the field who provided the status of each topic with clear-cut precision, allowing all attendees to know the latest in each provocative topic.


Laser Safety Scientific Sessions

Thirteen individual sessions made up the Laser Safety Scientific Sessions of ILSC 2011. These ranged from presentations on the basic biological effects of laser radiation through standards to practical laser safety issues.

“We were pleased to have more than enough proffered papers by the submission deadline, which made the scheduling a straightforward task. However, due to budget constraints, a number of presentations were withdrawn. This did not mean empty slots. Perhaps driven by the threat of having to tell jokes or sing for 20 minutes, the session chairs did an excellent job by either filling the empty slots with presentations themselves, or by taking advantage of papers received after the submission deadline,” explained LSSS Chair John O’Hagan, Ph.D, Health Protection Agency, Didcot, U.K.

There were a total of 52 papers presented, of which a sampling of the topics covered is given here.

“There is no doubt that the two bioeffects sessions justify attendance at ILSC for many participants, particularly those traveling from outside the U.S. This also provided the opportunity to hear about the rationale for the recently-published revised draft guidelines for exposure limits (MPEs) from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection,” said O’Hagan.

Laser accidents continue to happen and Michael Woods from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory described the lessons learned from an injury to a graduate student while adjusting a polarizing beam splitter. Ian Gillett of Imperial College, London, described how he was implementing a competency scheme for different levels of laser safety management. He outlined an incident where a researcher had a near-miss, but was carrying work at a level that he had not demonstrated competence.

“Laser eyewear standards use different approaches in the U.S. and Europe and it was interesting to hear of proposals to produce an ISO standard from the leader of the project group, Roy Henderson; Sharli Frederikson of the Mayo Clinic covered laser dyes and solvents; Mike Woods x-rays and Ben Edwards of Duke University electricity to remind delegates of the risks from non-beam hazards.

“Whilst we tend to worry about eye injuries from exposure to laser beams, Peter Smith of TASC reminded us of the transient visual effects in people exposed below damage thresholds and how these influence non-therapeutic research,” O’Hagan said.

New for ILSC 2011 was a session on Risks from Non-Laser Optical Sources. Many laser safety officers and others are finding that their remits are extending beyond dealing with traditional laser safety issues. The degree of interest was such that a number of non-laser papers were slotted into other sessions.

“Another first for ILSC 2011 was a poster display. Although this was a small beginning, it is possibly something that will grow in the future to allow even more people to present their work,” said O’Hagan.


Technical Practical Applications Seminar

Attendees of the 2011 ILSC Technical Practical Applications Seminar sessions saw a wide variety of subjects in the laser safety field.

“Topic chairpersons all have great experience and knowledge in laser safety and were very interesting presenters,” said Technical PAS Chair Sheldon Zimmerman, CLSO, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va.

The first Technical PAS session presented by Greg Makhov and Patrick Murphy on audience scanning at laser light shows provided some of the difficulties encountered in getting approvals and safely setting up such performances. The session culminated in a set of beautiful laser light shows in which volunteers were scanned with laser beams. Tom Lieb’s session entitled “Laser Safety in the Workplace” gave a well-informed view of obstacles and considerations often encountered in industry. The third session about regulations was made extra informative and interesting with Casey Stack’s presentation style and rewards for participation. David Sliney’s presentation on control measures provided extra insight into practical considerations for control measures, particularly regarding what control measures are reasonable in certain situations.

“The session on measurements and nominal hazard zone determination, presented by Bob Thomas, gave an overview of measurements, calculations and error assessment with a very practical flavor, in spite of the somewhat advanced subject matter. Dr. Thomas was able to provide a lot of good information at an appropriate level for the attendees that were anticipated at his session,” said Zimmerman. “In the last Technical PAS session, Leon McLin talked about laser pointers and dazzling laser systems and some of the practical implications of their use. Overall, the Technical PAS sessions were both entertaining and informative.”


Medical Practical Applications Seminar

The Medical Practical Applications Seminar is a two-day seminar for medical laser safety officers (MLSOs). This seminar was particularly useful for MLSOs who work in operating rooms, surgical centers, aesthetic clinics and medical spas. Topics included plume hazards, hazards of airway passage, accidents in the operating room, regulations/litigation, setting up a safety program for the O.R. and safety recommendations and regulations.

This year’s Medical PAS was a first-time addition to ILSC. “This was the first medical conference I can remember in a long time specifically for this market and I was shocked and pleased to see the dynamic group of laser professionals that volunteered to teach. There currently is no other forum for advanced medical laser usage, so this is an event we’d like to repeat every two years,” explained MPAS Chair Vangie Dennis, RN, BSN, CNOR, CMLSO, Gwinnett Medical Center, Duluth, Ga.

“The Medical PAS was a great event for the advancement of advanced laser practices in medical usage; we may invite a  representative from OSHA next time as we had its research arm NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) there this year. We also had leading experts speaking on topics that covered all facets of the industry, for example, Leslie Pollard of Southwest Innovative Solutions provided an interesting mixture of nursing and engineering while Patti Owens of Olympic Dermatology and Laser Clinic covered the aesthetic side,” said Dennis. “Such a diverse and dynamic group helped highlight all the different components that make up our industry.”

One of the Medical PAS sessions was titled “Myth Busters,” where the speakers helped the MLSOs understand why certain standards of practice are followed, and how to analyze and understand the basis of these practices, such that appropriate hazard analysis responsibilities and appropriate responses can become part of the role and responsibility of the MLSO when the unexpected occurs.

“Dr. Kay Ball and I do this lecture quite a bit. It addresses dilemmas and how to go about solving issues that arise in a medical setting that involves other aspects of patient safety. This assists the audience in that there is more than one way to resolve a situation or conflict when a patient and physician is involved” she said. “Our industry is not about equipment and personnel safety and much of our practice involves patients, so it’s important to understand the practices and how you make decisions based on that.”

The “Experts on the Standards” session provided attendees with information from an international standpoint, from the national AORN standards viewpoint, to aesthetics and lastly research where the presenters talked about what’s happening in these segments across the country.

Dennis said that most of the comments heard were about how useful and informative it was to blend the practices of the medical side with the industrial side, as all ILSC attendees could come to these sessions.

“We need to reach out to those individuals – LSOs and laser specialists – that this is a forum for them just as much as MLSOs, but overall everyone was very happy with the results of the education delivered given that this was our first year at ILSC,” she said.


Networking Too

In addition to the exciting educational opportunities, ILSC also provided plenty of chances for attendees to network with their peers – from the Welcome Reception and the Sponsor Reception to the “Hot Topic” Luncheon and Awards Luncheon featuring the George M. Wilkening Award Presentation and the R. James Rockwell Educational Achievement Award.

“At ILSC 2011, the technologist and safety professional was able to acquire new skills and sharpen current processes to ensure their organization is up-to-date on laser safety,” said Rockwell.

ILSC is the premier gathering of laser safety professionals – there is nothing else like it. It will be held again in 2013. In the meantime, the conference proceedings are now on sale for $99 at

About the Author
Steven Glover is a proud member of the LIA staff. When he is not at work he is actively involved in several charitable efforts.
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