This section has been reviewed and updated as needed: April 2014

Electrical Hazards

Accidental electrocution while working with high voltage sections of laser systems can be lethal. Electrical hazards are not normally present during laser operation, but great care should always be exercised during installation, maintenance, or servicing. Laser users must ensure that high voltage electrodes are not exposed and that capacitors are correctly discharged. Some laser systems incorporate the use of a water cooling system. The combination of water and electrical hazards of course increase the risk of serious injury.

Chemical Hazards

Many dyes used as lasing media are toxic, carcinogenic, corrosive or pose a fire hazard. A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) (formerly known as the MSDS) should accompany any chemical handled in the laser laboratory. The SDS (formerly known as MSDS) will supply appropriate information pertaining to the toxicity, personal protective equipment and storage of chemicals.

Collateral Radiation Hazards

Radiation other than that associated with the primary laser beam is called collateral radiation. Examples are x-rays, UV, plasma, radio frequency emissions, and ionizing radiation. X-rays could be produced from two main sources in the laser laboratories: electric-discharge lasers and high-voltage vacuum tubes of laser power supplies, such as rectifiers and thyratrons. A power supply, which requires more than 15 kilovolts (kV), may produce enough x-rays to be a health hazard.

UV and Visible Radiation Hazards

Laser discharge tubes and pump lamps may generate ultraviolet and visible radiation. The levels produced may exceed safe limits and, thus cause skin and eye damage.

Fire Hazards

Class 4 lasers represent a fire hazard. Depending on the construction material, beam enclosures, barriers, stops and wiring are potentially flammable if exposed to high beam irradiance for more than a few seconds.

Explosion Hazards

High-pressure arc lamps, filament lamps, and capacitors may explode violently if they fail during operation. These components are to be enclosed in a housing, which will withstand the maximum explosive force that may be produced. Laser targets and some optical components also may shatter if heat cannot be dissipated quickly enough. Consequently, care must be used to provide adequate mechanical shielding when exposing brittle materials to high intensity lasers.