Industrial Laser Applications and the Need for Laser Safety Glasses
Because of their unique properties, lasers enjoy many industrial applications. For example, they can cut and drill materials without the need of a cutting or drilling tool. This eliminates the problems of tool wear and replacement as well as excessive noise. They’re effective at machining difficult materials such as ceramics and very hard metals. Laser beams can be directed through flexible optical fiber cables to inaccessible areas. Lasers are also used for welding, ablating, annealing, and metal hardening operations.
Lasers can deliver highly focused energy to a small area. This allows them to do cutting operations that waste very little material and produce no edge burrs, both of which are common when using standard cutting tools. Because they don’t exert a force on the workpiece, elaborate jigs and fixtures aren’t necessary.
Lasers can be an integral part of a machining system such as a 2D cutting system or a 3D printer. Some of these systems completely enclose the laser beam and present no safety hazard to the operator or nearby workers, while other systems provide no such safety. Lasers may also be added to an existing CNC machine or a robotic arm. Safety in these instances isn’t necessarily built into the arrangement.
Many of the properties that make lasers so useful also make them dangerous to unprotected workers. The same highly focused energy that readily performs machining operations can destroy human tissue, especially that of the eye.
Three hazardous properties of lasers are:
- Laser beams are coherent. The coherent beams of lasers allow them to travel long distances with little dispersion. This means its energy intensity, and therefore its injury potential, diminishes little with distance. High powered lasers can pack a lot of energy into a tight, narrow beam. This endangers any unprotected person within eyeshot of a powerful laser beam or a reflected stray beam.
- Some laser beams are visible. Laser beams within the visible light spectrum optically behave the same way that ordinary visible light does upon entering the eye. That is, they aren’t stopped by the outer transparent layer of the eye but travel through and are focused by the eye’s lens onto the retina where they destroy its light sensitive cells. This leaves a portion of the central vision permanently blinded. The focusing effect of the eye’s lens can increase the laser’s energy intensity thousands of times.
- Some laser beams are invisible. If a laser beam in the invisible light spectrum, such as ultraviolet or infrared, catches your eye, you won’t know it. A powerful laser will cause immediate eye damage while a beam of lesser power will damage the eye over a longer exposure time. Because you can’t see the beam, you won’t blink or avert your gaze, and will allow the laser to cause injury.
How Laser Accidents Affect Businesses
Repeated laser accidents covered by worker’s compensation will increase work comp insurance rates. In addition, the company loses valuable workers in the case of blindness, and productivity in the case of recoverable injuries. This is particularly true of employees with highly specialized skills.
Permanent eye injury or complete loss of vision has a serious impact on a person’s life and ability to earn a living. If this happens to people not covered by worker’s compensation, such as independent contractors, devastating lawsuits can ensue.
Minimizing these accidents requires adherence to safety protocols and measures, knowledgeable and proactive laser safety officers, use of safety technology, and ensuring that all workers wear laser safety glasses.
The Need for Laser Safety Glasses in Industry
Depending on the type and power of the laser, accidental eye exposure may cause severe burns on the eye’s outer, transparent surface. If permanent scarring occurs, then vision is permanently affected. As mentioned previously, powerful visible laser beams cause permanent central vision loss.
Powerful laser pulses of short duration can cause a microscopic region within the eye to become a plasma. The heated expansion of the plasma can induce a shockwave that causes injury to surrounding tissue. This can be highly damaging to the retina. Regardless of the mechanism involved, powerful industrial lasers can cause serious vision impairment and even permanent blindness.
While safety protocols and equipment safety interlocks are used in industry, they won’t guarantee safety because protocols aren’t always followed and equipment interlocks can malfunction. On the other hand, the right laser safety glasses in good condition give reliable protection, provided they’re always worn.
How to Get Employees to Wear Laser Safety Glasses
Although wearing laser safety glasses can be made a requirement and enforced, that won’t stop employees from taking them off when management isn’t looking. Why would employees knowingly endanger their eyes? When they feel that other issues override eye safety. Three common issues are:
Poor fitting glasses can cause chronic discomfort and even pain. Working long shifts while in pain will motivate most people to remove their eye protection when the boss isn’t looking. Pinching, rubbing, pain, and headache are all symptoms of poor fitting safety glasses.
A one-size-fits-all approach will guarantee that most of your employees will experience discomfort and that many will take their glasses off at any opportunity in order to relieve their pain and discomfort. Chronic discomfort is a distraction that can also cause other kinds of work accidents.
When are safety glasses unsafe to wear? When a poor fit causes them to fall off or slide down the nose. Some employees with this problem will deem their glasses “useless” if they can’t be relied upon to stay put. Such employees will lack motivation to wear them. Glasses with an unreliable fit may come off at the instant they’re needed to prevent accidental laser exposure.
It’s human nature to take pride in oneself and one’s work. This includes one’s appearance. For some people, a pair of safety glasses clashes with their self image because it makes them look geeky. While not everyone suffers from this problem, the numbers of those who take issue with being forced to look geeky are sizeable.
Forcing everyone to wear the same glasses is like forcing them to wear the same sized work boot. This problem and the others discussed above are readily solved by finding a supplier who offers a large selection of laser safety glasses. Contact us at Phillips Safety Products to inquire about our selection. We have safety glasses that will fit faces of all sizes and shapes. In addition, there’s a wide variety of attractive styles from which to choose.