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Laser Safety

Policy Statement

Each location at the University of Virginia (UVA) or UVA Medical Center where non-ionizing radiation in the form of lasers is utilized will review such usage and establish the appropriate safety and health procedures. Such procedures will address usage, condition and health of those involved.

Substantial and significant laser safety policies have been developed for the University and are available at the links below.

Laser Safety Committee

The Laser Safety Committee shall be established as a subcommittee of the University of Virginia Radiation Safety Committee for all uses of laser devices at the University.

The program will be administered by the University Laser Safety Officer according to the policies and requirements specified in the standards: ANSI (American National Standards Institute) Standard Z136.1 (2007), American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers; Z136.3 (2011), American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Health Care Facilities; and Z.136.8 (2012) American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Research, Development, or Testing.

The committee shall be staffed by University personnel from the Academic and the Medical communities as appointed by the Vice Provost For Research, the Associate Dean for Research, or the Vice Provost for Health Sciences.

  • Membership of the Laser Safety Subcommittee should include representatives of the Health Sciences community who are knowledgeable of the use of, and regulations involving, lasers in patient care or research.
  • The Laser Safety Committee will establish and maintain policies and regulations for the control of laser hazards.
  • The Laser Safety Committee will collaborate in approving the Standard Operating Procedures described in each user’s mandated Laser Safety Manual.

Laser Safety Officer

The Laser Safety Officer (LSO) has the responsibility and authority to monitor and enforce the control of laser hazards. The LSO for the University of Virginia is Marianne Story Yencken. Marianne may be contacted at or 434-243-1725.

The duties and responsibilities of this position shall include, but not be limited to:

  • Establishing a Nominal Hazard Zone (NHZ) according to the procedures described in ANSI Z136.1-2007.
  • Recommending and/or approving eyewear and other protective equipment.
  • Specifying appropriate signs and labels.
  • Approving overall facility controls.
  • Performing periodic equipment audits.
  • Conducting proper laser safety training as needed.

Applicable Standards

The American National Standard (ANSI Standard Z136.1-2007) for the Safe Use of Lasers, is universally recognized as the definitive document for establishing an institutional program. Their basic classification system has been adopted by every major national and international standards board, including the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) in the U.S. Federal Laser Product Performance Standard which governs the manufacture of lasers in the United States.

The ANSI scheme provides for a total of six laser classes: Class 1, 2, 2a, 3a, 3b, and 4. Higher numbers reflect an increased potential to harm users. According to the standard, knowing the classification of a particular device and comparing the information to the following table will usually eliminate the need to measure laser radiation or perform complex quantitative analyses of hazard potential.

Researchers and Medical Personnel working with Class 3b and/or Class 4 Lasers or Laser Systems must comply with the requirements of this program.

Table of Institutional Program Requirements
Class Control Measures Medical Surveillance Safety & Training Program
1 Not Applicable* Not Applicable Not Required
2 Applicable Not Applicable Recommended
2a Applicable Not Applicable Not Required
3a Applicable Not Applicable Recommended
3b Applicable Applicable Required
4 Applicable Applicable Required

* During operation and maintenance only. Alignment and service procedures of an embedded Class 2, 3, or 4 laser shall require control or administrative procedures appropriate to the class during these functions.

Program Compliance

Class 1 Lasers and Laser Systems

A Class I laser is considered incapable of producing damaging radiation levels during operation or maintenance and is, therefore, exempt from control measures or other surveillance requirements.

Examples of Class 1 Lasers include:

  • lasers in the visual spectrum which produce no more than 0.4 microwatts of power
  • a laser which contains a more powerful laser within an enclosure which is inaccessible during operation. Since lasers are not classified based on beam access during service, most Class 1 industrial lasers will consist of a higher powered (higher classed) laser enclosed in a protective enclosure that features proper interlocks and labels. The enclosure could be a room (walk-in protective housing) which requires a means to prevent operation when the room is occupied.
Class 2 Lasers and Laser Systems
  • Class 2 lasers must be visible.
  • The output power of these lasers must be low enough that a person’s natural aversion to bright light will protect the eye.
  • These lasers must produce less than 1 milliwatt of visible, continuous wave (CW) light.
  • Looking directly into the beam of one of these lasers is relatively safe if the person does not force himself to ignore the natural aversion response. Normal aversion response is generally considered to take 0.25 seconds.

There is a special classification of lasers called Class 2a (the "not intended for viewing category").

  • These lasers are allowed to produce more power than Class 1 limits only for limited time periods (less than 1000 seconds).
  • A Class 2a laser must be designed so that intentional viewing of the beam is not anticipated.
  • A supermarket bar-code scanner is a typical example of a Class 2a laser.
Class 3 Lasers and Laser Systems

Class 3 lasers are divided into two subgroups (Class 3a and Class 3b) so there is no plain Class 3.

Class 3a

  • Class 3a lasers are allowed to exceed the power limit of Class 2 by no more than a factor of 5. Therefore a CW, visible Class 3a laser has a maximum power of 5 mW.
  • Often these lasers will have an expanded beam diameter so that no more than 1 mW can enter a fully dilated pupil which is 7 mm.

Class 3b

  • Class 3b may be either visible or invisible.
  • They cannot produce more than 500 mW of CW power. This is enough power to result in an injury before a person could react.
  • Both the eye or the skin can be injured by exposure to direct beam or mirror reflection. Scattered energy (diffuse reflections) is not considered hazardous in most situations, unless the device is operating near its upper power limit and the diffuse target is viewed at close range.
Class 4 Lasers and Laser Systems
  • Class 4 lasers present the very greatest hazard potential.
  • Both the eye and the skin may be readily injured by either direct beam, mirror reflections, or diffuse reflections.
  • Class 4 laser use requires the greatest number of control measures.
  • Fire hazards are also a very important concern.

Program Manual Template

One of the principal requirements of your laser safety program is a manual which adequately describes your specific operations and the precautions to be exercised when utilizing laser light. The following document templates are examples of acceptable manuals. Please feel free to download and modify as you see fit.

A manual template must be completed, reviewed by the Laser Safety Officer, and signed before you are authorized to work with a laser at the University of Virginia or University of Virginia Medical Center.

Template for Surgical Use Lasers (Agency 209)

Template for NON-Surgical Use Lasers (Agency 207)