A Review of the ANSI Z136.8 and Why You Should Be Using It

By Ken Barat

ANSI.8The researcher and Laser Safety Officer (LSO) in a research, commercial or academic setting, face many challenges and frustrations. One that they should not have to deal with is laser safety guidance that does not represent their work environment. To this end, a new ANSI standard has joined the Z136 laser safety series. It is the Z136.8 Safe Use of Lasers in Research, Development, or Testing standard. ANSI Z136.8 works in conjunction with the ANSI Z136.1 Safe Use of Lasers standard to provide improved guidance to users and LSOs at facilities where research, development and testing of lasers and laser systems are actively performed. This type of laser usage can present many challenges to an LSO due to the large variations in use by the facility’s personnel and their routine need to manipulate the optical set up.

These challenges may include:

  • Production of homebuilt lasers that have not been certified (CDRH) laser products
  • Research lasers with varying output characteristics and beam path set-ups
  • Custom built housings, barriers and curtains
  • Large volume of users to train and oversee
  • Ensuring the use of proper techniques and personal protective equipment (PPE) during alignment procedures
  • Operating  a user facility

The information in the Z136.8 introduces new guidance specific to research, development and testing that will help an LSO and user meet the challenges faced at their facility. In addition, guidance pulled from the Z136.1 has been reorganized into a format that is more specific to R&D and makes it easy for LSOs and users to quickly and clearly reference information in the standard.

Is Z136.8 Acceptable to Regulatory Authorities?

The Z136.1 standard allows guidance from specialized application standards, such as the Z136.8, to take precedence within the scope of that standard.

Other special application standards within the Z136 series may deviate from the requirements of this standard. Each deviation is valid only for applications within the scope of the standard in which it appears.”

Therefore, guidance from the Z136.8 can be used for R&D specific applications that may not have been fully addressed or are in conflict with Z136.1. It is up to the discretion of the LSO to determine which specialized standard(s) apply to the particular environment,  just as an outdoor range officer will look toward the Z136.6 Safe Use of Lasers Outdoors standard rather than the Z136.1. Remember the ANSI Z136.1 is a horizontal standard and was designed to encompass a wide range of laser applications; expect the generation of vertical/application standards to provide more specific and germane guidance.

Some of the new items you will find in Z136.8 include:

  • Discussion of Alignment Eyewear
  • Fiber Optic Section, non-telecommunication
  • Information on Export Controls
  • Full Color Signage and Diagrams
  • New Appendices
    • Sample Forms, lab audit and program forms
    • CDRH rules
    • Frequently reported incidents
    • On the Job Training
    • New approach to Hazard Analysis

Where are the Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) Values?

The Z136.8 deliberately does not contain any MPE values, why? Since the Z136 series does not get published in unison, an application standard that contains MPE values may be out of sync with the latest MPE values. For Z136.8 to avoid giving outdated information, its standard subcommittee decided to leave these values and charts out. The subcommittee felt that the Z136.1 was the proper home for MPE values. This does mean one would have to buy two standards to get R&D guidance and the current MPE numbers.

ANSI Z136.8 manages to include all the relevant information from Z136.1 in a condensed format that, in conjunction with newly added guidance specific to R&D, acts as an invaluable tool to LSOs at R&D facilities. The standard allows for quick reference to proper guidance on the issues that an R&D LSO faces on a daily basis. It provides the LSO with better professional judgment and support as well as increasing their ability to be an effective safety consultant in the constantly changing world of research and development.

Ken Barat is a Certified Laser Safety Officer (CLSO) with Laser Safety Solutions and chaired the subcommittee which developed the ANSI Z136.8 standard.