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Laser Eyewear Protection: More Places on More Faces

Laser Eyewear Protection: More Places on More Faces

Laser Eyewear Protection: More Places on More Faces

Lasers have been around so long now (Theodore Maiman created the first laser, flipping the switch on May 16, 1960, at the Hughes Research Laboratory in California) that few people would think of them as an emerging technology. But while lasers themselves are nothing new, commercial use of lasers is increasing rapidly as people discover new ways to capitalize on the precision and power of that light beam. But, as use increases, so does the risk of eye damage. If you work around lasers, it’s important to understand what the risks are and how you can protect yourself.

How lasers damage your eyes
Think of your cornea as a magnifying glass that focuses light on your retina. Now think of what would happen if a laser beam strong enough to cut metal passed through your cornea. Your cornea would be burned and your retina permanently damaged, changing your life forever. It only takes a millisecond. And it doesn’t even take a direct hit, so just because a laser is immobile doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you. Even the light reflected from objects in the room can damage your eyes. Moreover, what you can’t see can definitely hurt you. In fact, invisible laser beams are even more dangerous, precisely because you can’t see them.

How laser glasses work
The key to working safely with lasers lies in correctly and consistently using laser eyewear protection. Laser eyewear is injected with a chemical that filters out light of a certain wavelength, so that the damaging rays never make it to your eyes. However, they’re designed for accidental contact, not prolonged exposure. Never look directly into a laser beam, even with your laser glasses on. It’s also extremely important that laser glasses fit properly, especially if you’re wearing them over prescription eyeglasses.

Because laser glasses work by filtering out light of a specific wavelength, you need different glasses for different lasers. For example, the proper glasses for lasers that emit an invisible beam are clear – there’s no need to filter out light in the visible spectrum. For visible beams, the glasses are typically the color on the opposite side of the color wheel from the beam itself. So, for instance, glasses for a blue beam would be red, and glasses for a red beam would be blue (or sometimes green).

When and where you need them
The simple answer is, you need them any time you’re working with or near a laser. For instance, if you’re using a laser in an operating room, everyone in the room needs to have laser glasses on at all times. Since eye damage can occur in a fraction of a second, you can’t take them off for “just a minute”.

Laser glasses are Personal Protective Equipment regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), so there are specific rules for their use. There’s an OSHA brochure that explains these regulations in detail.

Commercial use of lasers is growing exponentially. You may find them in your dentist’s office or in the office of a dermatologist who uses a laser to remove moles, birthmarks, etc. You’ll find them in factories, on assembly lines, and at some construction sights. However, to reap the benefits, you have to manage the risks. That means wearing laser glasses whenever you’re working with or near a laser – all the time, every time.

Jeremy researches eye care and safety. He often writes about simple and necessary ways to protect one’s eyes from damage.

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