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Lasers in the Classroom

I. The Issue:

As our use and understanding of lasers increases so does the likelihood that you will find a laser in the classroom. This increased availability may also promote complacency with regard to the safety hazards posed by a laser as their use becomes more common place. A key point to remember is that all lasers have the potential to cause serious harm. No laser is risk free. Injury can occur as a result of equipment malfunction or mishandling. As a result, all lasers should be handled with care and respect to prevent accidental injury.

II. Observations made:

We did not actively investigate the number and types of lasers present in the school department, but instead stumbled across a serious laser safety hazard in the high school science department. The department possessed a low energy Uniphase class II laser (maximum power of less than 0.95 milliwatts) that is generally considered eye safe. This designation means that the unit is considered to be safe for use without protective safety glasses. Our laser has been used primarily for demonstration purposes by the faculty. Unfortunately, one staff member took the demonstration process too far by pointing the beam directly into his eyes. The intent of these demonstrations were to show that not all lasers were immediately dangerous. This practice was contrary to the conventional standards of laser safety and the recommendations of the manufacturer who stated that the beam should be treated with caution and no one should view the beam directly.

III. Problems or concerns noted:

IV. Actions taken:

We addressed this problem by reviewing general laser safety and the operator's manual for the laser with the science faculty and school administration. During this discussion, we also reviewed the potential long-term health effects and possible workmen's compensation issues associated with these demonstrations. As a result, the laser to eye demonstrations have been discontinued.

Lessons learned:

1. Check to see if your school department owns or operates a laser. Review all uses and demonstrations. Do not assume that all uses are necessarily safe or appropriate. Check to make sure the unit is secured when not in use to prevent inappropriate student use.

2. Train or review laser usage with your staff to ensure everyone understands the safe and appropriate use of the devices available.

3. Depending on the power or type of laser(s) you have in your inventory, you may need to register the unit with your state health department.

4. All lasers should be treated with care and respect as a means to prevent accidental injury.

Resources:

During our evaluation, I relied upon the services and expertise of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Radiation Control Program. I encourage you to consult with your state health department when pursuing a similar investigation.

prepared by Todd H. Dresser, Environmental Engineer
(formerly of)
Burlington Board of Health, 29 Center Street, Burlington, MA 01803


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