Laser facility

Laser facility requirements are given in both legislation and Australian Standards. As such, there may be numerous ways of meeting these requirements so the nature of the research activities would have to be considered when designing the facility. These laws and Standards apply to all class 3B and 4 lasers, except when it is categorised as an embedded laser.

Below are 3 examples of laser facility designs that may be suitable for research work and adopt best practice. These examples should be referred to in conjunction with the legislation in Schedule XIII (class 3B lasers) [.pdf – 37 kB] and Schedule XIV (class 4 lasers) [.pdf – 39 kB]. The following is a summary of the main elements of the legislation and Standards. As such, it should not be considered an exhaustive list of requirements but rather a guide to the main considerations only. Further clarification can be provided by the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO).

A laser enclosure

  • Usually the simplest and most cost effective design is to have an enclosure around the laser that encompasses the entire beam to make it impossible either for any accidental reflections to be emitted from within or for anyone to make physical contact with the beam.
  • There must be a failsafe interlock that either cuts the power to the laser or reduces its power (by means of a shutter or filter) to that of a class 2 or below when the enclosure is opened.
  • The enclosure must be constructed of a material that prevents viewing of the beam.
  • There must be a warning light on the outside of the enclosure showing when the laser is on.
  • Alignments must be conducted with either a second low powered (class 2 or below) laser or with a filter in place that reduces the power of the main laser to that of a class 2 or below.
  • Where it is possible to access the beam in high powered mode (for example during servicing or maintenance), PPE appropriate to the power and wavelength must be available.

Controlled area with a door interlock

  • When the beam is not entirely enclosed and personnel are required to work in the vicinity of the laser, it is necessary to have a controlled area (ie. a dedicated room) with non-reflecting surfaces and adequate lighting.
  • Risk assessments should include an explanation as to why the work cannot reasonably be achieved by adopting the laser enclosure method above.
  • A failsafe interlock must be fitted to the door of the controlled area, which must either cut the power to the laser or reduce its power (by means of a shutter or filter) to that of a class 2 or below when the door is opened.
  • The controlled area must have the means to restrict access to authorised personnel only. However, in an emergency it must be possible for personnel to rapidly enter or exit the area.
  • In an emergency there must be the means to deactivate the laser from inside and outside the controlled area.
  • PPE appropriate to the power and wavelength of the laser must be available.
  • There must be warning lights both inside and just outside the controlled area showing when the laser is on. The warning light inside must be visible through the protective eyewear.
  • The beam should be below eye-level and reasonably practicable engineering controls should be implemented to protect personnel from ocular (class 3B and 4) and skin (class 4) exposure (for example, confining the beam to a benchtop with guards around the perimeter and beamstops to terminate the beam).

Controlled area with an antechamber

  • When personnel are required to work in the vicinity of a laser that is not enclosed, and it is not practical to have an interlock on the door, an antechamber design can be implemented. The antechamber and the main laser area will together be considered the controlled area, which must have non-reflecting surfaces and adequate lighting.
  • Risk assessments should include an explanation as to why the work cannot reasonably be achieved by adopting either the laser enclosure method or controlled area with a door interlock method above.
  • The antechamber can either be separate room outside the main laser room or it could be created by dividing the main laser room into two areas (for example, floor-to-ceiling curtains can be used to form this divide).
  • The antechamber must be designed such that if the entrances to both the main laser area and antechamber are simultaneously opened (or curtains retracted where applicable) it would not be possible for the beam to be directed to an area outside the controlled area by a single flat reflecting object.
  • The controlled area must have the means to restrict access to authorised personnel only. However, in an emergency it must be possible for personnel to rapidly enter or exit the area.
  • In an emergency there must be the means to deactivate the laser from inside the main laser area, inside the antechamber and outside the controlled area.
  • PPE appropriate to the power and wavelength of the laser must be available and located in the antechamber to enable donning prior to entering the main laser area.
  • Warning lights, showing when the laser is on, must be located inside the main laser area and inside the antechamber. These lights must be visible through the protective eyewear. There must be another warning light just outside the controlled area.
  • The beam should be below eye-level and reasonably practicable engineering controls should be implemented to protect personnel from ocular (class 3B and 4) and skin (class 4) exposure (for example, confining the beam to a benchtop with guards around the perimeter and beamstops to terminate the beam).

Embedded lasers

If a class 3B or 4 laser is embedded in the instrument during normal operation such that the beam and all components of the laser are only accessible by using tools to dismantle the equipment, then the laser can be categorised as a class 1 embedded product. As such, it would not need to be registered or operated by a licence holder. Examples would include DVD writers, some laser ablation mass spectrometers and some confocal microscopes.

If it is possible to remove part of the protective housing without tools and access the beam or remove any component of the laser, the instrument will need to be registered. Furthermore, if the protective housing is removed and a user can be exposed to an accessible emission limit equivalent to a class 3B or 4 laser then the operators must have, or work under the supervision of someone with, a licence.

The determination as to whether a laser meets the class 1 embedded criteria, according to the Standard, should be made by an individual holding a ‘laser – service’ licence.