Achieving Success with a BLS Certification

BLS_Registered_Logo_Final (2)By Betsy Marone

The Board of Laser Safety (BLS®) – a nonprofit organization affiliated with Laser Institute of America (LIA) – was tasked with the development and sustainment of a program that establishes a nationally-recognized level of competence and expertise in the field of laser safety. The BLS first created the Certified Laser Safety Officer (CLSO) program. Upon completion of this program, Laser Safety Officers (LSOs) prove their comprehensive knowledge of laser safety, which designates them as experts in their field. The BLS later developed the Certified Medical Laser Safety Officer (CMLSO) program, through which individuals are recognized as knowledgeable experts in the evaluation and control of laser hazards under the unique conditions found in the medical arena.

In an ever-changing job market, a BLS certification offers immense benefits. Faster and more cost-effective than returning to school for an additional degree, this certification enables individuals to receive a recognizable and respected credential. Certification also improves one’s competitive edge in the industry. Adding a higher level of credibility to experience earned on the job, certification helps individuals stand out from other job candidates. The combination of laser safety experience and certification shows current and potential employers that these candidates are accomplished and qualified in this challenging field.

Greta Toncheva had first-hand experience with this, as she worked to become a CLSO after earning her degrees in Bulgaria and working at Duke University for 10 years. Following her work experience in assembling detectors for the Transition Radiation Tracker in the beam line of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Switzerland and then as a member of Duke Radiation Safety Group, Greta was hired to be the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) LSO.

Greta’s rewarding work at LBNL includes helping staff researchers, visiting researchers and young graduate and post-doctoral fellows, and educating them on the laboratory’s high safety standards. Greta enjoys playing a role in the success these researchers achieve in the end. While the combination of her laser safety experience and certification continuously sets Greta apart in the field, she finds that the certification adds to her credibility among fellow professionals, who respect her as an expert.

In addition to a competitive edge, a leading advantage of a BLS certification is the increase in job security it affords. No matter the state of the economy, laser safety is an integral component to companies’ successes. Although budget cuts may call for the termination of certain positions, managers may be more likely to retain the certified professionals whose specialized skills, such as laser safety, are an asset to their company.

CLSOs and CMLSOs also provide companies with examples of their adherence to the regulations enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Since OSHA requires employers to provide safe working environments, having CLSOs and CMLSOs on staff demonstrates the company’s dedication to the high safety standards expected in laser safety programs.

This job security can also give way to enhanced opportunities for advancement and increased earnings. With the extensive knowledge and the respect the certification affords, CLSOs are prepared to pursue any future employment opportunities that may arise. Jodi Ploquin, an experienced CLSO, exemplifies this, as she has seized presented opportunities throughout her career. Currently a consultant with Krivonosov Risk Management Consultants Inc. (KRMC), Jodi is a Medical Health Physicist and Certified Laser Safety Officer with expertise in laser safety, laser radiation safety, nuclear security and system reviews following adverse events.

While working at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre as the Radiation Safety Officer, the Provincial Radiation Safety Officer asked if she would be interested in being the Provincial Laser Safety Officer for the Alberta Cancer Board. At this time, although Class 3B and 4 lasers were being utilized, there was no in-house Laser Safety Officer. To fill this void, Jodi took her LSO training and examination to earn her certification. Five years later, Jodi became a Medical Health Physicist at the Ottawa Hospital but quickly learned that the hospital lacked a formalized laser safety program. After conducting a gap analysis, developing a strategic plan for the program’s implementation and presenting it to senior leadership, Jodi’s department was awarded the necessary authority and resources to make the program a reality. Jodi worked as Laser Safety Officer in this new program for five years before she was asked to use her expertise to establish the Calgary Office of KRMC in order to extend laser and radiation safety services to Western Canada. The important work Jodi has completed as a consultant has led to the continuous growth and success of her career.

Medical Laser Safety Officers also benefit from certification in their field. As the medical industry continues growing at a fast pace, a BLS certification allows MLSOs to remain up-to-date with their laser safety knowledge and to uphold the highest standard of laser safety.

CMLSO Richard Gama recognizes the positive impact his BLS certification has had on his career. Beginning his work with lasers as a Surgical Technologist more than 30 years ago, he later became a health care laser system operator and has continued his work with numerous laser systems for varying medical and surgical procedures. After years of operating room experience and laser expertise, Richard was asked to become LSO for Universal Hospital Services, Inc. (UHS) formerly PRI Medical Technologies, Inc. With his certification, Richard established the company’s laser safety program and policies. As a result of his certification, Richard has repeatedly faced and conquered the challenges that arise from the constantly-advancing laser technology, the continuous training and educating of health care personnel to meet today’s standards, and the constant dispelling of antiquated myths about safety and laser program compliance. The knowledge he has gained throughout his career, as well as through his BLS certification, has allowed him to improve staff knowledge and change the laser safety culture at UHS and many health care facilities throughout the country.

The lack of understanding about lasers and their potential hazards increases the importance of CMLSOs, as they bring a level of assurance to patients who are seeking an optimal level of care. Because of the hazardous nature of lasers, they must be handled by individuals with an extensive knowledge of laser safety in order to prevent injuries. CMLSO Raphael Darvish learned of the dangers associated with lasers when he sustained a non-permanent eye injury at his medical practice in California. After this experience, he made laser safety an integral part of his practice. Earning his certification has not only allowed Raphael to better serve his staff and patients, but has also established him as a dedicated provider and a trusted expert in laser safety.  Raphael now educates colleagues and clients on the dangers involved in the use of lasers and continues promoting laser safety in an industry where business owners would often rather spend time and money on promoting their business rather than on the pursuit of laser safety certification.

Overall, CLSOs and CMLSOs report that BLS certification has greatly improved their success. BLS Executive Director, Barbara Sams, agrees. “BLS certification is an elevation of status for the Laser Safety Officer; it shows that the individual has the specific knowledge, skills and abilities to perform the job of LSO,” says Sams. “It demonstrates the individual’s commitment to the job and validates the employer’s dedication to a safe working environment.”