By Geoff Giordano
For four days in March, the Laser Institute of America’s International Laser Safety Conference (ILSC®) in Orlando will be abuzz with a stellar educational program featuring recognized laser safety experts from around the world.
With scientific sessions tailored specifically to everyone from Laser Safety Officers (LSOs) to medical technicians to laser physicists, engineers and safety product manufacturers, ILSC 2013 will feature cutting-edge presentations from some of the biggest names in laser safety.
The conference, to be held March 18-21 at the Doubletree by Hilton® at the entrance to Universal Studios, will be packed wall to wall with the latest information on hazard evaluation and risk assessment, eye protection, non-beam hazards, high-power lasers, medical applications, bioeffects and more.
Among the featured session chairs and speakers will be veteran LIA safety educators Dr. David Sliney, and Ken Barat, chairman of the standards subcommittee that crafted the new ANSI Z136.8 Safe Use of Lasers in Research, Development, or Testing standard.
With the revision of the parent Z136.1 standard underway, “the laser safety professional needs to understand where his or her program fits into the new standardization,” says Dr. Ben Rockwell, four-time chair of ILSC and chairman of the subcommittee that produces the ANSI Z136.1 standard. “They will learn those kinds of things at ILSC,” which this year expands on the popular Technical and Medical Practical Applications Seminars (PAS).
This year, the two-day Medical PAS will offer contact hours for attendees. Chaired by Vangie Dennis, administrative director for the Spivey Station Surgery Center outside Atlanta, the Medical PAS will feature an overview of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) Recommended Practices for Laser Safety.
“We have some dynamic speakers this year and great topics that will enhance the knowledge of the advanced practitioners, as well as anyone who is new with medical lasers,” Dennis explains. “A lot of the information involves changes in recommendations and new technology. We also will give a perspective on how to handle ethical dilemmas as a medical LSO. This is not always black and white, as it is with industry, because of the patient variables.”
Topics addressed in the Medical PAS will include an update on surgical plume management, airway fires, electrical safety in the laser use area, teamwork in the operating room, legal issues with lasers in health care and current practices in the use of lasers in aesthetics.
Meanwhile, the two-day Technical PAS will “provide a forum for institutional laser safety professionals to share real-world lessons on managing site laser safety programs in a variety of settings,” says Chair Ben Edwards, radiation safety officer at Vanderbilt University. “These expositions offer the collected wisdom from the study of actual laser accidents, years of first-hand laser use research and laser lab design — revealing valuable observations that accrue only with the benefit of experience and hindsight. Other presentations will give LSOs practical knowledge on performing hazard calculations, identifying and complying with the applicable regulations and standards, understanding how optics change the nominal hazard zone and more.
A UNIQUE EVENT GETS BETTER
Having participated in ILSC in various capacities for nearly two decades, “I truly never saw such a wealth and quality of submissions, which made it a pleasure to arrange them into a range of thrilling sessions,” enthuses Laser Safety Scientific Sessions Chairperson Dr. Karl Schulmeister of Austria’s Seibersdorf Laboratories.
“We are extremely strong in product safety and product standards-related issues, as well as two bioeffect sessions.”
For the first time, Schulmeister says, ILSC will feature a special session on visual effects like glare and dazzle. Also new is a poster gallery, and returning by popular demand is a scientific medical safety session.
Those features bolster an already one-of-a-kind event spearheaded by the top minds at the cutting-edge of setting the guidelines for laser safety. Chief among those experts is General Chair Rockwell, who works at the Air Force Research Laboratory in San Antonio, Texas.
“I work with the bioeffects standards community and ask them for areas in which they need more data, then I collect that data; it helps in determining the maximum permissible exposure levels,” he notes. “If there are any changes up and coming, I like to make sure the changes are based on real physical phenomena that occur. We do the analysis and experiments to determine how the laser system that we have can help out the laser safety standards. On a more practical level, I use the laser safety standards.” In his role as principal research physicist, “we have a large number of labs with Class 4 laser systems with a wide variety of pulse durations, exposure durations and wavelengths, and we apply the laser safety standard that I help to write.”
WHY ILSC IS THE PLACE TO BE
For Yoav Grauer, system engineer and electro-optics development leader with BrightWay Vision in Haifa, Israel, ILSC is “a great platform to expose our technology, share our laser safety approach and hopefully meet relevant professionals in this field to assist with our laser safety efforts.” BrightWay is developing an advanced night system for forward-facing driver safety assistance, based on an active gated-imaging technology, Grauer says. He is responsible for laser safety design, analysis and certification.
Myung Chul Jo, a certified LSO at the University of Nevada, Reno, concurs that ILSC provides valuable industry insights and networking opportunities with his peers. Managing the safe use of lasers on campus “requires having the knowledge and ability to make decisions” because “there is often no one to turn to when there are questions. Having colleagues is very important.”
ILSC “has provided me with many opportunities to meet experts from all over the world, learn from the experience of others and learn about new technologies and upcoming new standards,” he says. “Laser safety is a very specialized field and laser safety professionals are few in number.” When he began his duties as LSO more than 15 years ago, “it was challenging to start a new laser safety program. Attending ILSC has been very helpful in assisting me to successfully meet the challenge.”
That’s because ILSC’s scientific sessions are carefully crafted so those with laser safety responsibilities, whether novice or experienced, are exposed to “immediately useful tools for improving competence, confidence, compliance, training material, efficiency and, above all, safety,” Edwards says. And four social functions — the welcome and sponsor receptions and the hot topic and awards luncheons — are designed to help attendees reinforce what they’re learning.
As lasers grow smaller, cheaper and more powerful, and various industries embrace photonics for more and more applications, ILSC has many lessons to impart.
“Today we are confronted with extremely compact — sometimes even portable — and often inexpensive lasers that are nonetheless extremely powerful and quite dangerous,” Edwards cautions. “The size (or price) of a laser no longer provides any indication of its relative hazard.” As a consequence, “The international marketplace has been flooded by inexpensive, low-quality but high-power laser products that may not comply with the product performance standards specified by regulatory requirements. LSOs may now discover that cost-conscious users have brought into the workplace lasers with hidden hazards and lacking even the most basic safety features.”
In the research setting, “you’re often dealing with lasers that don’t have all the bells and whistles,” notes Barat, former Laser Safety Officer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Many are homemade. “In industry, once the controls are in place, things are pretty much set for long periods of use. In medical settings, people work off a checklist for each procedure, and the doctor and nurses discuss eyewear use. But research settings are more fluid. In R&D, a setup can stay the same with just different samples for years or change every few weeks following the path of the results or funding.”
For more information about registering to attend ILSC or to examine the program schedule, visit www.lia.org/ilsc.