CO2 lasers are an important production tool with plenty of uses. From cutting and drilling to welding, heat treatment, and marketing, they have tons of benefits that no other tooling can match.
However, like any other tool in the factory or workshop, CO2 lasers require a level of respect and operator care to ensure optimal safety standards around the workplace. Failing to adhere to safety standards could result in a severe workplace injury that costs the operator their health and the owner their finances.
However, the issue with lasers is that they often operate outside of the visual spectrum. It's easy for operators to assess the visual safety aspects of tools like grinders, lathes, and extrusion tools. However, lasers make it challenging to protect yourself and your team from workplace hazards they can't see.
Hazards and Safety Procedures
The laser itself is the primary safety concern. The laser can cause severe damage to the skin and eyes. Far-infrared CO2 lasers can cause corneal damage without the correct safety standards in place. A CO2 laser injury often occurs when the operator receives overexposure to the laser by staring at it directly.
Diffused or specular reflected beams can also cause vision damage to the operator during prolonged exposure to the beam. Using the proper eye safety wear is paramount for preventing any vision-related injuries in operators.
Protective eyewear should include lenses with various colors and densities, tailored specifically to the laser's power and wavelength. You can check with your industry associations to find the safety glasses suitable for your application.
CO2 lasers are also notorious for causing skin injuries. Operators can receive third-degree burns or holes through their fingers from accidental exposure to the laser. While these injuries are usually not the cause of a debilitating injury, they cause tremendous concern.
Using the right PPE can help mitigate accidents in the workplace involving vision and skin injuries with the CO2 laser.
Outlining CO2 Laser Safety Program
It's critical that companies adhere to the ANSI Z136.1 safety standard when operating CO2 lasers in the workplace.
Here are the steps to establishing a proper safety program.
Establish your authorized users of the equipment.
Nominate and train the operator.
Create a laser schedule including all operators of the CO2 laser.
Approve and specify control standards for every laser.
Create a program for scheduling safety audits.
Identify issues and create action plans to resolve problems as they arise.
Companies should revisit safety standards at least every six months, preferably every quarter. Your safety standards and control measures should cater to normal operation and the maintenance of the equipment. Testing, servicing, and laser alignment should all have clear safety protocols and processes in place for each activity.
Implementing engineering safety measures over key controls, protective housings, remote interlocks, laser warnings, and controlled areas must be handled by procedural or administrative persons. The core of any safety program involves implementing controls over SOPs, alignment and servicing procedures, operators, spectators, and PPE.
Continuous education and training of operators and advancement of safety procedures ensure your organization adheres to international standards.