Laser-emitting tools and equipment are common to many work situations. Lasers in printers, grocery store scanners, construction tools, and laser pointers are generally lower powered and designed to be safe, but when they are misused or handled improperly, they can pose a hazard.
Because lasers emit high-intensity, directional light beams that vary in strength, they are a particular hazard to the eyes. If a worker looks directly into a laser beam for an extended period of time, focused laser light can burn the tissue of the retina and cause a startle reflex, flash blindness, permanent vision loss, or complete blindness. Tissue damage and burns can also occur if body parts are exposed to laser light for an extended period.
Workers should keep body parts out of the laser beam and never look directly into a laser. Even low powered lasers can cause damage if workers stare into them. Lasers should never be deliberately pointed at another person. Horseplay with lasers is a hazardous game that could result in vision loss.
The lasers used in printers are sealed within protective housings that do not allow the laser beam to escape. These lasers are designed to shut off if the protective housing is opened. Workers should ensure that the protective housing on laser products is intact and functional. Only trained and certified laser operators should open the housing and perform maintenance on lasers. Note that while office photocopiers do not use laser technology, they do use visible and ultraviolet light. It is safest to photocopy with the cover down; if the cover must be up, the user should avoid looking into the light source.
Grocery and retail store scanners are used to scan product prices. They can be used in wands or flatbed configurations, depending on the cash register layout. These scanners use quickly moving laser lights that sweep back and forth over barcodes. They are designed to keep the laser moving and prevent it from focusing on a single spot and causing damage. Additional safety features include a shut off mechanism that turns the scanner off after a few seconds and a short light beam (300 millimeters) that prevents extended eye exposure to the laser beam.
Laser pointers are higher-powered lasers that focus and pinpoint the laser light for use in lectures and presentations. For this reason, workers must take extra precaution to avoid staring into the laser and never point the laser at another person. Construction tools such as saws and levels also use this same laser technology; the same safety rules apply. Workers should ensure that the laser tool they use (be it pointer, saw, or level) is certified for consumer use; some imported lasers may not meet safety standards.
Workers should be familiar with the type of laser that they use at work. Training and knowledge of proper laser use and procedures insures a safe workplace.