Five Things You Should Know About Eye Safety when Working with Lasers

Posted on May 08 2018

Five Things You Should Know About Eye Safety when Working with Lasers

Laser fabrication hardware today is much more accessible to both professional and hobby users. If you are one of them, chances are you know a thing or two about using said lasers. But everyone could use a refresher. So here are the five things you should be aware of before revving up your machine.

1. You need protective eyewear even if you think you don't

Safety is boring and easy to dismiss. It's common to think "I'm careful when I work”, "It's not like I will stare at the laser beam" or "The machine I use is not even that powerful". I'm sure these are true. But even a low-powered laser beam, reflected from a piece of material can be hazardous. American Occupational and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends to avoid looking into a typical corner store laser scanner. And even the smallest laser used for fabrication is much more powerful and packs quite the punch.

A laser by definition is a highly focused beam of light. If it hits the lens of an eye, the light's focus amplifies, as does the damage it can do. And if it happens, it's anything from temporary partial loss of vision to permanent blindness. Safety eyewear is the only way to eliminate, or significantly reduce the risk.

2. Regular safety glasses won't do the trick

Not all workshop apparel is created equal. Typical run-of-the-mill safety glasses are helpful against dust particles or liquid splashes. They don't help at all when dealing with lasers. Even the tinted ones designed for outside use do not stop or even reduce laser light intensity.

3. Wrong kind of laser protection can make things worse

There's a lot of kind of laser beams out there, all operating on different frequencies. Unfortunately, that means there is a ton of different kinds of protective eyewear too. Even if you have a pair of "anti-laser" goggles, they might not block the frequency of the specific machine used. In that case, they provide nothing but a false sense of security.

4. Your laser cutter does offer some protection... right?

It's not unreasonable to think that transparent lids that cover laser machines provide some form of protection. In reality, manufacturers usually reserve safety filters for their high end machines. Mid tier and budget options get regular glass or just plain transparent acrylic. These will stop you from reaching in during the cutting process, but will hardly deter laser light from damaging your retina.

5. If the damage is done, your eyes might recover... but chances are slim

No matter how careful one may be, accidents happen. Being exposed to lasers brighter than the Sun (in some cases, many thousand times brighter) even for a moment can be devastating. Best case scenario is surface damage to the lens of the eye, which in most cases can heal within days or weeks, be treated or replaced. Worst case is damage to the cornea, which is nigh impossible to treat and results in complete blindness.

So how does one choose the right eyewear?

Here are the four things you should keep in mind:

  1. Laser wavelength, power and pulse mode. Check with your manufacturer. Commonly used frequencies are 10600 nm (CO₂ lasers) and 1060 - 1080 nm (Fiber lasers).
  2. OD (Optical Density) describes the degree of protection offered by the glasses. With few exceptions, the higher this number is, the better.
  3. VLT (Visual Light Transmission) value of the goggles. The lower this percentage is, the less you will be able to discern visually. Think welding helmet versus sunglasses.
  4. Adherence to International and European optical and laser standards (e.g., EN 207 / EN 208). If it doesn't say so on the box, you should probably pass.

Conclusion

Taking the time to take care of your own work safety is definitely worth it. While it might seem tedious, it doesn't have to be. Get in touch with us, and we will recommend you the right pair of (somewhat) stylish shades that will keep your eyes safe and sound.

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